When I was growing up, my family moved around a lot, and as such, I've seen my fair share of weird and wonderful things. I've seen a woman breastfeeding a piglet in the hills of Papua New Guinea, I've been in the middle of the world's largest water fight, and I have seen Santa Clause in many different shapes, sizes and ethnicities.
It was Christmas day 1995, and my family and I were having lunch in one of Singapore's nicer hotels. The champagne was flowing for the grown-ups, and I at age eight was happily guzzling down what must have been my third glass of strawberry soda. When who should wander into the busy dining room but only jolly old Saint Nick himself.
Obviously, I am excited by this, but as I look closer at this bearded man of so-called wonder, I become suspicious. I'm sure he was taller and fatter last year, wasn't he? Come to think of it he was black last year and this guy definitely looks moreAsian! My little mind begins to whirl and I can feel the tears coming, my little heartbreaking at the thought that the kids at school were right. Is Santa Clause a big fake? Is he just someone's dad in a suit? That's when my mum comes to the rescue, ever the provider of saccharinely sweet information in times of trouble or doubt. “Don't worry!” she says confidently as I tell her off my fears “Santa looks different in every country darling. So he can blend in with the local people”.
Bless my Mum for trying.
Because of this incident and many others like it, I have become very adept at enjoying Christmas far away from the traditional comforts of home. You could say it's become my normality. Of course, there have been mistakes along the way. Times when I didn't follow my own rules for making it through the most festive time of year with a smile on my face and a contented -if intoxicated- heart and soul. These are mistakes which I made at my own miserable peril and it is my greatest wish to save you from. You that friendly foreigner who is miles away from home on Jesus' birthday. Remember how excited you used to be on Christmas day as a kid? Well, with a little planning you can feel that way again. Put your boy scout hat on and be prepared.
With that premise in mind, here are my three golden rules to surviving a Christmas abroad teaching in China.
It's the little things that will help to make your holiday season bonnie and bright. Is there a Christmas classic which you can't live without? Maybe there's something you usually eat, drink or wear at this time of year? If so, get to the shops and buy it! Or better yet, log onto TaoBao and order it straight to your busy desk.
For example, every year my family gorges itself on Quality Street chocolates. My grandmother always picks out the best ones before I get a chance. I don't usually mind, but this year I will be happy Scrooge, munching away to my heart's content on these delectable treats, without another greedy hand in sight.
It's the season of giving after all, so why not give a gift to yourself? Is there something in the shops you've had your eye on for a while? Perhaps a gorgeous new coat? Or camera? I personally plan to gift myself a morning at a spa on the big day. Go on! You deserve it!
Think back...... have Christmases back home become a little too predictable? A little too mundane? The same old food and routine conversation? If that's the case, smile for joy my friend. As this year you get to escape the monotony of Christmas tedium. This year you don't have to see that annoying Auntie who always asks “Are you still single?” Or fake laugh at your Uncle's crap jokes. Also this year you won't have to argue with your parents about your life choices or spend a small fortune on gifts for relatives you barely see.
Go on! Treat yourself! It's Christmas after all.
However, if you think my advice is a little too self-serving, then why not give back? Give that homeless guy a nice big tip or bake some cookies for the office. I myself am going to cook Christmas Eve dinner for some of my colleagues. My point is: do what makes you feel happy. Don't let the kid inside of you down by giving up on Christmas.
Fran, aka Mrs.Clause
Harbin, China/The North Pole