When you’re offered a job abroad or the chance to travel, one of the last things you’re going to worry about is what you’re doing for Christmas. This is especially true if you’re like me and you took a job in Asia, a 14 hour flight (if there’re no stops) from your hometown. At first this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but as I recently learned, the reality of being away from your family during the holidays starts to get to you. Here are the five phases of holiday separation angst I went through while living in Shanghai:
At first you think it’s OK because you get to travel! You wouldn’t want to lose some precious days on the road, or in my case precious vacation days, to go back to the place you’ve lived most of your life. What a waste! Your family may not like it, but they can deal with it for one year. Besides, you’re having too much fun.
Thanksgiving comes. You start to feel this weird feeling. Your Chinese coworkers are hosting these events and trying to make you feel at home. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make up for the fact that you’re working during a day when you’d usually be off eating a gigantic feast with your family. You brush it off, since Thanksgiving is a bogus holiday anyway, and tell your Chinese friends about what the pilgrims REALLY did to the Native Americans.
You start to see Xmas lights here and there. You are confused. Oh wait, “It’s Christmas already?” You start talking to your family about presents. You arrange to buy some online because no one wants you to pay the outrageous shipping price it would cost to ship something from where you live – even though you know they’d be ten times happier with such a gift. Sadly, you just can’t afford it. You get tons of invites to Christmas parties with other expats. This really helps (unless you’re like me and you work at a training center at night.) Still you wonder how you can possibly make Xmas feel like Xmas without your family. Suddenly all those annoying fights from the years past start to make you nostalgic. You even miss helping clean the house before the guests arrive. You think you could get a christmas tree, but by this time it’s too late and you don’t really have money for one. Getting paid monthly, on the last day of the month, has been never so painful.
It’s December 23rd. You’re overwhelmed by all the photos of Christmas trees and status updates about Xmas plans that you are seriously contemplating booking a flight home and telling your boss to go screw himself. You realize that this would be crazy expensive and that you would probably be way too jet lagged to enjoy your family’s company. Plus, that whole getting fired and having no money thing could be a problem. Instead you begin sulking. Your friends try to make plans with you to make Xmas better. You appreciate their efforts, but it doesn’t stop you from feeling really mad at yourself for not requesting the time off.
Your local friends send you tons of Merry Xmas messages. For people who don’t celebrate Christmas, they’re being really nice about this whole thing. In fact, you start to feel thankful that they’ve put in so much effort to make the city look Christmasy, despite that this has nothing to do with their own history or culture (At least this is the case with Shanghai).
Finally, you realize that although you may not be all that religious, family-oriented customs pull more weight with you than you ever imagined. That being said, you now know never to do this again. Now it’s time to enjoy the holiday as much as you can, and start putting together a really sweet bag of Chinese gifts for the family for whenever you see them next. After all, getting presents during a random time of the year would probably be more special anyway.