Christmases Away from Home: Pseudo Survival Guide

It was October when I first landed in Taipei. The weeks that followed was a whirlwind of unpacking, class registrations and classes, sightseeing (c/o of our local classmates), homework, learning how to operate the dorm’s electronic equipment (i.e. washing machine and dryer with Chinese instructions) – general madness. I had arrived late for the semester (due to visa processing matters) and had to juggle so many things that it wasn’t until my sister emailed me a picture of our decorated tree back home when I realized it was going to be my first Christmas without family. When I saw that December 25, 2007 was a school day, a rush of melancholy engulfed me. Is it possible to get through the day without falling apart in tears?

Grumpy during ChristmasOddly, I have neither shed a tear nor fallen apart during the last four out of five Christmases I’ve spent away from home. When asked how I was going to spend the “most wonderful time of the year” this year, it occurred to me that I’ve unintentionally created some sort of method on how to not be miserable during the holidays. No, I haven’t turned into an unsentimental hack. I’ve simply found the following quasi-list of ways to get around feelings of loneliness and avoid being completely grumpy.

Coming to terms with the fact that Christmas is not a big deal in Taiwan allowed me to take a step forward in my cultural experience of the country. Except maybe for a small number of Christians, most people here simply see Christmas as a season of gift-giving*. I had to accept this as part of my current reality. Acceptance made it more bearable.

But then again, one can still go partying with people who celebrate the holiday – who, in this case, were my Filipino classmates and acquaintances. During my first Christmas here, we went to several gatherings organized by various Pinoy** communities based in the city; it was generally fun to just hear/speak a familiar language and to meet new people.

Gym rats

Christmas eve dinner with friends I met at the gym

Having a potluck-style dinner with friends who don’t normally celebrate Christmas – a.k.a. my Taiwanese gym buddies – was the highlight of my second foreign Christmas. We toasted (with green tea) to the occasion and then watched some movies. The ultimate perk of this was there was absolutely no pressure to bring gifts or anything extravagant (Come to think of it, that was probably because we were all broke students).

Perhaps the most “extravagant” (not really) way I spent Christmas was taking a short surfing trip to Hengchun in the southern part of the island last year. To my great dismay, the weather became freakishly unfriendly on the day we were supposed to go out. The upside was that the town has some neat historic landmarks. I visited those and vowed to return to catch some waves (hopefully by then the ratio of Nel-on-top-of-the-surfboard/Nel-underneath-the-surfboard would increase).

Hengchun West Gate

West-side gate of what was once a fortress that bordered Hengchun’s coast

For 2011, with the weather looking bleak even in the usually warmer parts of the country, I’ve decided to stay in the city and kickback for an easygoing weekend; checking-off one more book on that ever-growing list before the year ends (made great progress with A Brief History of Time), exploring some nearby historical sites (went to the Lin Family Mansion and Garden), and getting started on goals for next year (running/fitness goals are now set on paper).


Meet Rob – in potty training

Finally, I always call family, ask what they’re having for Christmas dinner and talk about nothing in particular. They told me the happy news that we’ve adopted a new puppy named Rob (the previous owner already named him but I’m thinking of adding something; similar to the “Boom” after Lars). I’ve come to realize that despite being away, I’m still pretty lucky to have a place I truly call home. That said, what reason do I have to refuse to spread the cheer and to enjoy some pudding milk tea (my Christmas treat)?

And so my dear friends, I sincerely hope your holidays were (or are, for those who are still celebrating it,) rich with meaningful moments. Oh, now that we’re talking about this, how was (is) your Christmas?

Side Notes:
*This means that it’s a season of unnecessary shopping and sales. I share the sentiments of my friend, Rangewriter, who has written a fantastic post about this consumerist silliness.
**Pinoy is slang for Filipino or a person who is a citizen of the Philippines.


10 thoughts on “Christmases Away from Home: Pseudo Survival Guide

  1. Aww… I imagine that I’ll be spending next Christmas away from family for the first time ever. It’s so hard to think of!

    This year, lots of food, drinks, and family. Cruising old haunts with friends :) I’ve been away from home for 8 weeks, and will be here for two weeks so I get to have tons of fun!

    • Hey Osemhen! Christmases and the accompanying celebrations are great ways to re-connect with family and friends. For next year, should you find yourself spending it alone, I suggest trying out new ways to revel during the holidays.

  2. Wow. Thanks for the plug, Nel. You have a wonderful outlook on life. That is why and how you survive being far from home and family during the emotionally-laden holidays. But you gather friends wherever you go and a person with friends is never truly alone.
    I think I’d be missing bonding with that cute little pup more than anything else. ;-)

    May the new year bring some awesome surfing weather your way.

    • No need to thank me, RW. I consider that post a message that everybody should hear.
      As for my outlook, it’s not perfectly polished and I do have moments of gloom, but I tell myself that these are part of choices I’ve made so I have to accept them.

      Rob is indeed a cutie. I miss him even if I haven’t met him. Papa says he’s a sweetheart and is constantly exchanging bickering barks with Lars (our other dog).

      I hope Idaho is inversion-free this winter. :) Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Thanks for sharing how you celebrate Christmas in a country where most people don’t. Most of my family is far away and I miss all the family celebrations I grew up with, although I do enjoy the quiet Christmases too.

    • Hello Bongo and BongoDogOwner!
      I hope (and believe) you’ve enjoyed this last Christmas despite what’s lacking.
      Silent Christmases have somehow grown on me, too.
      Thanks for visiting here. :)

  4. I like your style, Nel. Have I said that before? I don’t mind saying it over and over again!

    May all your Christmases be just as positivity-driven as the ones you’ve mentioned.

    And a Very Happy New Year.

    P.S. Rob’s a darling.

    • Priya, you are too kind. Thank you.

      May your holidays be fun and fulfilling as well; the year ahead – meaningful. :)

      Your visit is much-appreciated. I’ll pass your compliment on to Rob.

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