It’s hard not to celebrate Christmas– you would have to try very very hard, from dodging the Broad Street market on your grocery trips to killing your social life by disappearing from Oxmas formals, bops, carols (often only realizing they are themed such after showing up) and enduring conversations on how much we all look forward to home and the vac. Any such attempt would be an inevitable failure – in this country, everything Christmas touches turns into glittering excitement and world peace.
Christmas is great, especially the cold weeks leading up to it, all mulled wine and mistotle. People seem a lot more laid back with increased wearing of ugly sweaters. Yet the actual holiday itself is arguably, for someone not going home, more of a pain: the inconvenience of reduced supermarket hours, radio silence from maintenance/customer services/parcel tracking. No cafés, no cinema, no pubs or eating out. Not much traveling or transportation either. No midnight food trucks.
Most of my annoyance, however, comes from the overwhelming pity I received from friends, college acquaintances, shop attendants, tutors and my scout for not “going home” for Christmas. Despite their good intentions I still find the sympathetic “aw that’s sad” inherently presumptuous. Maybe because I didn’t grow up with Christmas, and find little personal reason to celebrate the birth of Christ.
But I suppose that depends on how you define “celebrate.”
Back home in Taiwan, school friends were soaked up in Tequila shots at a local bar with secret santa offerings on their laps loaded with quirk and creativity, trying to impress. Hours later at the club, dress code is more chic than thematic. Personally I would prefer getting some Korean barbeque– just because it’s my festive favourite– and while away Christmas eve with a fireplace YouTube video.
Christmas does enjoy a special place in the world. It’s the climax between Halloween and New Year’s Eve, and the ultimate getaway after an exhausting term. It’s righteously religious but also pleasantly commercial. There is food and gift unwrapping and Santa. It’s the go-to filler word for journalists: pre-Christmas stock slump, no-Christmas Brexit, Trump’s Christmas visit. Without much personal connection, I still delight in the decorations, the markets, the pudding.
So how did I do Christmas this year? On Christmas eve I got a friend to make Taiwanese food for me as a late tribute to my birthday, and only vaguely remembered– at a locked side-gate in college – that it was Christmas eve. I did do something proper on the 25th though: a huge hot-pot dinner with society friends– the Sichuan spice and pork balls much more satisfying than, say, roasted turkey or cranberry sauce would have been. Most likely because these are what I eat on Lunar New Year’s Eve, the most celebrated festival across Asia, during which family and relatives gets together for a big meal and spend the night together. Kind of like Christmas, I suppose.
It usually takes place somewhere in February, depending on the Lunar Calendar, but I stopped paying attention to exactly when it is. As international students we are usually still struggling through piles of readings during holidays that mean little more to us than Bank holidays. A few American friends who didn’t get to go home for Thanksgiving were righteously depressed, and I totally relate. Seeing my family’s Chinese New Year feast (or even mid-autumn and dragon festival) through a webcam is a Shakespearean tragedy.
Compared to the Christmas condolences, a “Happy Lunar New Year” when it does come (not impossible to know if one opens up Google search) would be a much more sensible and caring gesture. Trust me, it would make your international friends very very happy.
All in all, I still love Christmas. It’s festive and everyone becomes friendlier– more generous even. I am just as perfectly content here writing for Cherwell, meeting internship deadlines, all the while listening to cheesy Christmas playlists. I do love it in my own way: without celebration.