Rant: Christmas abroad ain’t that bad

Looking back, this will be my eighth Christmas not spent with my family.

I’ve lived abroad for quite some time and it’s often difficult to fly home during Christmas. Frankly, coming from a Chinese family, Christmas is not as big of a deal as our Chinese New Year celebrations. However, you do miss your family during any sort of celebratory events. But once you get past that, it does not feel too bad.

Coming from Asia, Christmas feels quite commercial and more like a money-making gimmick. True, one cannot help but admire the Christmas decorations in malls, but people generally go about their lives as per usual, with the exception of having two days of public holidays.

The most I ever did to ‘celebrate’ Christmas back home was going out for dinner with my family in a restaurant. Then we headed to a party with friends and relatives.

Christmas in Europe, on the other hand, feels entirely different. Different countries seem to celebrate Christmas slightly differently though all emphasise eating as much as you think you can possibly stomach, then having some more. Even as you raise your hands in protest, people will just give you a ‘little’ more (which usually means another half a plate of food).

I was in Czech Republic during my first Christmas holidays abroad. That evening my friend suddenly told me to wear something nice to attend their Christmas dinner. I, of course, forgot to bring something nice with me. On the Christmas table there were wine glasses with sugar on their rims and delicious sweet wine within. We’d have our dinner then open the presents. (Embarrassingly, I only got a present for my friend and had nothing special for her family members.) We then went to the stove and melted tin and poured it in water, which supposedly foretold our futures. We went out and snow fell on our heads.

Although I was slightly saddened in the beginning that I wasn’t spending the day with my family, that first white Christmas experience was far better than any Christmas I ever had with my family!

From then on I seemed to mostly spend my Christmas holidays abroad. My time with an Italian family was not dissimilar to my Christmas in the Czech Republic. Everyone chatted enthusiastically about their holiday plans. We had a prolonged dinner then relaxed with coffees, grappa, limoncello and other Italian drinks. The next day we went up to the pre-Alps and hiked around. Getting lost in the German Christmas market seemed to be a recurring hazard as I was easily distracted by the Christmas treats on sale and kept losing sight of my friends.

There were also cold evenings with mulled wine and eating from 9pm till 12am at my Spanish friend’s house, before spending too much time in the pub with friends. Christmas abroad has given me many special memories. Had I only spent my Christmas back home I would have never got to have such unique experiences. Of course, I still miss my family especially during the holidays. However, I’m eternally grateful to spend Christmas with wonderful people.This year it will be a summer Christmas in Sydney!

Yan-Kei Man