A Lonely Merry Christmas

Lonely baby

It turns out Facebook is not a good substitute for face to face interaction. Who knew?

It’s bad enough on the usual days of the year: people post pictures of their cool adventures with friends and family (guilty!), all the fun things their kids do, and maybe occasionally the five dishes in their sink that they need to do (“I’m such a bad housekeeper!). But on Christmas Day, of all times, it’s even more apparent. Everyone posts pictures of their lights, their trees, their snow, their families: everyone has a place to go for Christmas.

Except us. We’re just here, preparing to move out of our house in twelve days. Instead of getting presents, we’re purging. Instead of celebrating with family or friends, we’re all alone. Yes, unlike the Virgin Mary who had no refuge but a stable for the birth of her Son, we have a solid house and cozy beds (and air-conditioning). Also unlike the Virgin Mary, we have no visitors to bring gifts and celebrate with us that Christ is born.

In previous years, Christmas has been a season of finding light in the darkness. This year, for us it has a different focus. Just as Jesus was born in an unfamiliar manger in a strange town, we’re in a strange country surrounded by strangers. There’s much to be said about the comforts of home–but surely there’s a point in wandering, too?

For years after Christ’s birth, Mary and Joseph wandered, seeking refuge from an unstable king who wished to kill their Son. For years, Christmas brought to them not warm fuzzies and cozy feelings about how great humanity is, but running–for the good of the world.

Today, instead of singing saccharine songs about the “most wonderful time of the year” mixed in with odes to winter and expecting everyone to be wonderful and happy because Christmas, we’re singing “Wayfaring Stranger” and living it too. In this way, we are like the holy family: we are recognizing there is more to life–more to Christmas–than thinking about ourselves or all the good things it can bring out in people.

Christmas brings a message of hope, of peace on earth and goodwill to men. It brings assurance that these things exist, that they are possible. But it also reminds us they are, for now, not realized yet. First there’s the waiting, then the running and hiding, then–finally–the heaven that Christmas promises to bring.

Christmas is not heaven. But it will be. All our waitings and wanderings will, one day, bring us home. And then we won’t be wayfaring strangers.


Christmas with Chopsticks

You wonder what it will be like to have Christmas in China. And then it comes, and it doesn’t feel very Christmas-y. It’s hard to celebrate without family.

You set up your Christmas tree a few days ahead of time, getting it decorated by Christmas eve.

Who says stockings can’t hang over the Great Wall?

You get out your favorite Captain America sweater and put it on, trying to conjure up memories of home and see how American you can be.

Actually, it was a gift from some of our fellow expats.

And when all that fails to summon the magical spirit of Christmas, you turn to the old tried-and-true: cooking.

Cinnamon rolls, Christmas cookies, apple pies–food always makes you feel festive!

Mmmm . . .

But the best way you know to celebrate Christmas is with friends. So of course you stuff your tiny apartment with as many people as it can hold, and rejoice together over the sugar-cookie dough and the eggnog.

And you find creative ways to make pretty cookies even without cookie cutters.

You find that working together with friends is one of the best ways to feel that sense of community that you generally find with family in the place you grew up, as talk and laughter fill your already full kitchen.


Everybody loves Christmas cookies.

And then, when the cookies are done, and all the food’s ready, you sit down and eat together, and talk about everything you can think of together. But before you do that, you have to take the mandatory picture to document everyone who came and all the food you’re about to eat before it disappears.

Not as much food as for Thanksgiving, but it was still good.
And since you want a picture of your BEAUTIFUL hostess. . . (in which her head takes up half of the picture)

And after all this, you read the Christmas story and explain it to people who have possibly never heard it before. Then you sing Christmas carols and everyone knows “Silent Night,” and nobody knows “Joy to the World,” and of course they’re very happy when you play your violin for them.

And you decide that this may, after all, be one of the best ways to celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night! (It’s still only the third or fourth day of Christmas, depending on where you are, so I’m justified in saying that).