Why I Hate Christmas Abroad and Can’t Celebrate Chinese New Year: Not Getting The Best of Both Worlds

I rarely look back on moving abroad because taking the leap halfway around the world has given me more opportunities than I thought possible – especially in Ireland. Though there are times when I look back on my little mossy island and wonder what I might be doing there if I did not leave, I am always snapped back to reality and my happiness I have found in Taipei.

Still, I cannot help but have a feeling of dread for Christmas. This is coming from someone who gladly bought a novelty Christmas jumper in early November in anticipation of Christmas.

Christmas Jumper
A Santa Claus Jurassic Park reference

This year I spent Christmas away from my family for the third time in my life and for many of you reading this, you will think “try 15 times” or “I’m not even close to my family so I don’t care” and I see you have it rougher or simply do not care. But that isn’t going to make me or my Christmas glumness get any better.

What is Christmas to me

Christmas is a consumer holiday. Let’s get that out of the way first and move past that. I don’t celebrate Christmas because it is Christ’s fake pagan birthday and I don’t really care about buying and receiving gifts as much as I used to when I was seven.

I like Christmas because it is a break from exams, work and just taking it easy for two or three days while you eat and drink more in one day than most people do in their lifetime. I think because most Asians don’t celebrate Christmas, that is perhaps why they live longer on average than Europeans. Then again, Lunar New Year can also be a wailer of a time.

Christmas is about having time off and spending it with family and close friends away from the confines of whatever mess your life might be. I have had great Christmases despite some pretty heavy things happening.

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Why I hate celebrating Christmas abroad

But celebrating Christmas abroad – away from family – is just not the same. I was never one to be overly attached to Christmas. I like the mulled wine, Home Alone marathons and terrible low-budget kids movies from the 1960s on the television, but I’m going to go out of my way to say “that is Christmas”. Sitting at a table on a cold winter day with enough food to feed a small country is better.

You can sit at a table on a mildly warm winter day in Taiwan, with all the Christmas stuff you want and a table with so much food on the table that you start to feel guilty because the food on your table is more than some country’s GDP, but it just isn’t Christmas.

Christmas just isn’t a thing here, unless it is for making people buy stuff. In that case, it is a novelty. It is like businesses promoting Chinese new year in Europe. Sure, some people will want to partake in it, but it isn’t really Chinese new year, and it is just an orientalist take on what that holiday is. This is akin to what Christmas is here, an occidentalist perception of Christmas to be packaged and sold back to people who want it that way.

Personally, I don’t care anyway, Christmas is already a big packaged box with some goodies in it. Trying to make Christmas sound in any way authentic is just going to end in tears.

But at least at Christmas, you can be with family and friends. I guess not having much family out here is why I feel so glum around Christmas. That and the fact that not many apartments to rent have ovens, so there goes cooking an overpriced Chicken out the window anyway.

Not having the Chinese New Year either

You might think “hey well, you are in Taiwan, celebrate Chinese New Year!” and my answer to that is how? I don’t expect Taiwanese to be festive about Christmas, and why would they be, only 4.5% of them are Christian, and their perception of Christmas is consumerism, not being with family and friends.

I’ve heard people argue that Taiwan should have a national holiday for Christmas and this never made sense to me. To me, it sounds more like foreign nationals trying to justify a reason to celebrate Christmas more comfortably. “If it is a national holiday, maybe I can enjoy it better!” A national holiday status to enable a holiday doesn’t make sense either.

Saint Patrick’s Day isn’t a national holiday in Taiwan, but I had one of my best celebrations in Taiwan. You don’t need a family to have a good Saint Patrick’s Day, in fact, I would advise against it. Drunken family members are more likely to embarrass you or make you wish you were the accident that didn’t happen.

Closing thoughts

As time has gone on, I have grown less enthuastic about celebrating holidays. The one celebration I never cared about the most is my birthday. It is the one time of the year you get to focus on yourself as the celebration, but I could never look past it without pessimism. I guess being reminded you are a year closer to your invetible death isn’t for me.

I really hope Christmas picks up for me in the future though. It is a time of year I like to indulge in, but lately, it has just been a time for stress. As much as I can put it down to my surroundings, a most honest outlook is to look inside myself and realize that I am also not pushed to want to celebrate the holiday.

I could have gone to any of the many overpriced Christmas dinner events on the 25th, or took part in Christmas related shennaigans, but I didn’t. And calling it not “authentic” is weird considering there is nothing authentic about Christmas to begin with.

Not being able to celebrate Christmas in Asia is not an issue of the envrionment, as much as it is my own perception of the need to celebrate.

 

Tomás 孫柯

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