The holidays are fast approaching and how I’ll be spending them came to mind. Although not much will change for me with how I keep in touch with family, I realize most of my friends and family back home might be experiencing their first holiday alone. Perhaps I can offer some insight into how to celebrate the holidays apart from loved ones.
What would I know about that? After only being able to spend one holiday (Easter 2017) with my family since Christmas 2012, I have a lot of insight on this. Easter isn’t a holiday I care for, nor am I particularly religious. My family is mostly Catholic, but our celebrations never centered around the church, maybe a prayer and an amen before eating. So if you are worried about attending a religious service in which ever faith you follow ask yourself how you could instead practice that faith at home more profoundly.
It could be reading the religious text during this holiday, watching a virtual sermon, making a point to actual pray without distractions or observing a fast for a portion of the day. The fasting comes from my time during last winter when my husband’s family spent two days fasting from 4pm to 9am two days in a row as part of their Buddhist faith. Part of being on the fast included eating no meat during these two days. As a Buddhist myself, who is still learning a lot, this was a small introduction to an act of faith that is easily done at home.
So I encourage you to think of your own religious beliefs and rituals and what might be something you can do at home and then share the experience of it with other followers of your faith virtually if you are worried about the pandemic and keeping your family safe and healthy.
I started with the religious aspect as many people associate the holidays with religion, but just as many aren’t that religious anymore. So this is where you need to think about what is important to you during the holidays. For me I love Christmas the most, and Thanksgiving second only because of the food. I love seeing my family too, but I really miss my family’s holiday food. I’ve thought of recreating the recipes during my year’s in South Korea and China, but the ingredients are expensive and my oven is about the third of the size of one back home. Basically a pain in the ass to make everything or to keep it all warm. So I have learned to improvise on traditions.
When it comes to food, I just started skipping Easter and Thanksgiving, with the exception of one Thanksgiving in South Korea where my friend, Kristen, and I tried cooking an American Thanksgiving for friends. It was a lot of fun, wonderful to eat food we missed, and I am glad we did it. Thanksgiving in China the first year wasn’t celebrated at all, but last year I made the decision and said, “ Fuck it. Let’s eat at Ikea.” Ikea’s cafeteria had meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce and apple pie. It’s not exactly what I would have back home, but close enough. The cost is what seal’s it as the most likely repeatable option as it’s roughly 45 yuan or a little over 7 dollars. If I want to eat true Thanksgiving food at foreign restaurants here it is at least five times as much for one person. So I’ll pass on that, because food is going to be similar, but not the same as my own family. Right now, I’m looking forward to my Thanksgiving meal at Ikea in a few weeks.
Christmas is the one holiday that I’ve had different answers different years. For the first three years I spent Christmas with my friend, Kerri, who would cook a British roast dinner and have mulled wine. Nothing we ate was what I ate for Christmas back home, but she was trying to recreate the food she missed and ate during Christmas. It was always a nice day to chat, relax, drink mulled wine and be pissed we had to work on Christmas. So our celebration changed days depending on the year and timing. Two of the three years where on Christmas if I remember correctly.
The last year in South Korea, I told all of my friends I was spending the day alone. Most were unhappy with this decision, but I was depressed and almost all my friend’s had partners, and I wasn’t in the mood to be a third or fifth wheel. So instead I dressed up and took myself out on a date. I bought a nice coffee at a coffee shop and then later I went and had a fancy Christmas cupcake. It was a relaxing, just me and myself day and I really enjoyed myself.
I’m glad I spent that Christmas alone, because my first Christmas in China I also spent alone as I hadn’t made any friends yet so I decided to buy a slice of cake to eat at home. I had spent Christmas Eve with a coworker and her family, so I was able to experience some Chinese cuisine and an 80th birthday party. In 2018, I celebrated with friends at my place by making vegetarian food, mostly stir-frys, we had some cookies, and mulled wine. It was a small gathering of only four people, but it was a lot of fun and enjoyable.
Last year, I couldn’t tell you what I did, but I took some photos of my daughter in her Christmas clothes and stocking. I probably sat mostly at home, because Soby was only 3 weeks old and we might have had take out for dinner, haha. This year, I still have no idea how I will celebrate.
Yet, there has always been one consistent through all these years I haven’t been able to be home celebrating with my family, a phone call. Yup, every year I make sure I know when dinner is and I wake up at the crack of dawn to talk to everyone while they are eating delicious food. Easter this year was different, because no one was together and the time difference was too hard with my daughter being so young. Most of the time the East Coast is always 12 hours behind me so for Easter I am waking up about 3 am to chat. For Thanksgiving and Christmas if dinner is at 2, I’m up at 3. If dinner is at 4, I’m up at 5 to try and talk a little. Most years we would do a videochat over facetime, but I’m not sure what time we will set up this year to chat with everyone.
One way to spend the holidays with loved ones separately is setting up a time to facetime, skype, or zoom call. This depends on how technologically saavy your parents or grandparents are, but it can be done. Everyone has been super safe with pandemic safety so that they can visit my grampa. So about once a month or so I get to see him through a facetime call on my mom’s phone. Nothing is ideal in a pandemic and it may get worse as flu season begins.
Protect your loved ones if you can, if you want to see them in person weigh how much of a chance it has for getting someone sick, if everyone has been doing their job well, it might be safe enough to have a small gathering, if not think of a way to check on everyone.
And of course, don’t despair as this can be the year to start new traditions you have always wanted to try, but couldn’t. Sometimes we follow what our families do without being able to add our own input, but this can be the year to try a new recipe, game, or whatever else you want to do.
So find out if you will have a Christmas cookie bake off and share pictures, or if you will wear silly Christmas hats sipping mulled wine at home in Christmas pajamas while video chatting with your loved ones. There is always room for new traditions and it is good to learn to be flexible in how we celebrate as the years pass by. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and tries to find some sweetness in their lives this time of the year.