I was just doing our daily bottled water run to the local convenience store when I heard my first Christmas carol of the year – an incredibly low tempo and slightly depressing rendition of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’. My initial reaction was to wonder why on earth they were playing it at such a random time of year before I remembered that it is very nearly Christmas season – in my book you have to wait until December before cracking out the songs and decorations! Back home in the UK, it’s all John Lewis adverts (which I’ve still not seen), terrible X Factor contestants gunning for Christmas Number 1 and sparkly M&S TV ads showing off their Christmas nibbles – what I wouldn’t do for some of their brie and cranberry filo parcels about now!
Over here in China it’s hard to believe that it’s that time of year again! Particularly because Christmas is not recognised as an official holiday or celebration, given that only around 1% of the population are Christian. Instead it’s February’s Spring Festival and its accompanying red envelopes of money that is the big thing here! So it was a bit of a surprise to hear any form of Christmas music and, perhaps rather cynically, I assume it’s mainly being played for the benefit of the relatively large expat community that live in my neighbourhood. Or maybe the shop-owner was just completely unaware of its seasonal significance given that it was an English language song!
Despite it not being an official holiday over here, Joe and I are determined to celebrate in our own way and are full of grand plans to somehow prepare a roast chicken, stuffing and roasties in our toaster oven. I use the word oven loosely to describe this particular piece of kitchen equipment – it’s essentially a large box with a top and bottom grill that’s partial to burning anything and everything as well as giving you a good electric shock if you happen to touch its metal outsides while turned on. This doesn’t stop it being the best thing we have acquired since moving here! I actually have a full day’s work at the university on Christmas Day itself so will be leaving cooking duties in the far more capable hands of Joe while I attempt to teach some form of Christmas themed lesson to my students!
Initially rather gloomy about teaching on Christmas Day, I am now seeing the benefits of this arrangement. Knowing that my sisters, brother-in-laws and nephew will all be in Aberdeen enjoying my Mum’s amazing Christmas dinner, it’s easier to not feel homesick if my day out here just doesn’t feel like Christmas at all! It also helps that I have informed my Mum that it would be great if we could have an extremely belated Christmas dinner when I am home in February…although I’d settle for just a plate of pigs in blankets smothered in bread sauce.
I’ve also been exercising my limited crafting skills to prepare some decorations we can put up once we’ve crossed the crucial December threshold. It remains to be seen whether paper snowflakes and cardboard Christmas trees will look any good or indeed survive the onslaught of our paper-munching cats.
It’s not unexpected to feel a little sad that I am so far away from all my friends and family as they get into the Christmas spirit and I am sure that both Joe and I will suffer from the inevitable fear-of-missing-out as our Facebook newsfeeds are flooded with photos of parties, presents and all that Western food we’re craving. However, it’s also easy to remember that this is one Christmas that’s going to be totally different from the many, many more we have to come! As I sat around the table stuffing myself with turkey last year, even with our flights to China booked, I can honestly say that I couldn’t have imagined I would be seeing in 2015’s Christmas Day in Chengdu. So whilst we are swapping the Waitrose bakery aisle for hotpots and noodles this year, I am most excited to conclude our 2015 in China and see where on earth we end up next year!