I have heard a constant refrain recently of, "It just doesn't feel like Christmas!" from many an expatriate. I was trying to analyze why I couldn't honestly share with this sentiment, when it dawned on me that I don't really have a fixed idea of what Christmas "feels like."
Many speak of family traditions. I get the impression that my family is the sort that, in theory, likes traditions well-enough, but finds putting them into practice a little impractical. For example: For my first Christmas, my grandmother gave me a stocking that had a teddy bear head and had my name embroidered on it. After seeing that stocking, Mom decided that all of her future children would have matching stockings...a plan which went very well until the company that made my stocking went out of business while several of my sisters were not yet born. The first 5 of us indeed have matching stockings, but Mary-Grace's and Sarah's don't quite fit the mold.
Last year, I had my first Christmas with Angel's family. In other recent years, I have spent a few Christmases with my grandparents and aunts and uncles while I was a single college student, and later, while Angel was working a holiday shift at the hospital. I've spent Christmas with my own parents and siblings in America and in Malaysia as well.
My Christmas dinners have ranged from tamales with my Mexican family, to an 8-course formal Chinese banquet at my church in Malaysia, to a venison roast one year in Michigan when deer season was particularly fruitful...to the very memorable year that my grandparents decided to have filet mignon for Christmas dinner because the party was so small.
This year's Christmas was different from all previous years, but I cannot say it "didn't feel like Christmas" because I'm unable to come to a conclusion on the matter of what Christmas ought to feel like.
The Education Bureau of our city invited all of the foreign teachers in our program to attend a Christmas Eve banquet, which included a night's stay in the hotel where the banquet was hosted. Angel and I were quite excited about the banquet...I mean, we're the kind of people who get giddy about free toilet paper, if you remember, so a free feast and hotel stay sounds perfectly amazing to us!
We were served a sumptuous feast of rolls, french fries, shrimp, oysters, fish, lamb, chicken, beef, stir-fried green veggies, spaghetti, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and oranges. Angel was quite excited to see bottles of pop on the banquet tables when we arrived--hot water or tea is the usual drink of choice here, so pop is an unusual concession to the preferred tastes of foreigners.
After our banquet, we walked a little around the general vicinity of the hotel, which was located in our beloved shopping district, DongMen, and then headed to bed, since we had big plans for the next day!
In the morning, we gobbled up our free hotel breakfast and headed straight for the metro, because we had plans to head into Hong Kong and go watch The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies with some friends of ours. The border crossing was not particularly busy, but when we arrived at the Festival Walk mall we realized how very crowded everything was and also that maybe it's slightly crazy to visit Hong Kong on a holiday.
Our friends surprised us only after we got in line to buy movie tickets with the news that they'd already purchased our movie tickets as a Christmas gift to us (how sweet is that?). We had a few hours till the movie, so we enjoyed our time wandering the mall (I stumbled across a box of rare and exotic Cheez-its and bought them, how's that for an awesome Christmas?).
Ya'll know I love malls. I want to go back to Festival Walk pretty soon to more thoroughly explore it, hopefully when it's not quite as busy! We ate in the foodcourt, for the four of us are but ESL teachers and most restaurants in the mall seemed to err on the side of being fancy. So, for the first time ever, my Christmas Day main meal was found in a mall foodcourt. However, I don't think that really counts since I'd feasted at the wonderful banquet just the evening before!
We enjoyed our much-anticipated movie, and then headed right back across the border to return to our home in ShenZhen. Angel and I had wanted to attend church Christmas evening, but the combination of rain, the fact that Angel had to be at work bright and early the next day, and the fact that we both had colds made us fall asleep just about instantly when we arrived home.
It was a one-of-a-kind Christmas, I don't think I could have asked for anything more!
(P.S. Nope, schools don't have Christmas break here. We were generously allowed to have the day of Christmas off, but our students and coworkers went on with life as usual)