It has been a hectic year for us all, but the Christmas and holiday season is here! Since we can’t do much about our wanderlust this year, here is a blog from Pagoda Projects intern Cara Wilson, who writes about her time in Zhuhai, China during Christmas 2019.

Christmas has not long passed, however to me it feels like it was months ago.  This is probably due to the fact spending Christmas in China is extremely different from the usual celebrations I partake in at home in Scotland.  Although this wasn’t my first Christmas spent abroad, it was still a new experience for me.  Spending Christmas away from family and friends is always a strange sensation.  This doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad experience, just a different one.

This year, I was in Zhuhai for Christmas. However, the small southern Chinese city didn’t make a big deal out of the celebration. This is due to the fact that Christmas is generally not celebrated in China, or in many countries across Asia.  The 25th of December is not a national holiday, and Chinese companies don’t have any time off.  Luckily for me I had Christmas day off, therefore, I had the chance to celebrate in my own fashion and at least relax a little and call my family back home.

Zhuhai, China

If you were in Zhuhai in December but had no idea what month it was, you probably would never have guessed it was nearing Christmas. Although I knew that this Christian festival was not widely celebrated in China, I still thought there may have been some sort of commercial decorations or markets set up around the city.  However, there were very few signs that pointed to the existence of Christmas, and the hot weather and lack of decorations really made it easy to forget about the festival altogether.  During the last few days leading up to Christmas I even started forcing myself to listen to some classic Christmas songs to make sure I remembered it was almost time to celebrate.

As much as I found the lack of celebration surprising and new, it was also a good reminder of the cultural differences that exist between the UK and China.  Yes, I would have loved to be able to visit a cheesy Christmas market, but in some ways, I viewed the lack of celebration interesting as it really put my small world into perspective.  While so many countries celebrate Christmas each year, there are still millions of people who don’t treat the month of December any differently.  For many, other festivals hold much more importance, for example Lunar New Year.  Although I missed my usual Christmas activities, I could also view it as another chance to learn and experience a new culture, the number one reason why I chose to move to China.

It’s important to have some support, especially when you are so far from home or if you feel homesick.  If it wasn’t for the people I spent my time with around Christmas, I would have felt even further from home.

Something else that I learned from celebrating Christmas abroad is the importance of the circle of friends you surround yourself with when abroad. It’s important to have some support, especially when you are so far from home or if you feel homesick.  If it wasn’t for the people I spent my time with around Christmas, I would have felt even further from home.  So, in some ways, it was not only a chance to experience a different aspect of Chinese culture but also an opportunity to spend time with new friends and make sure we all felt like we had a family thousands of miles from home.  Although my Christmas was different in many ways, the homemade carbonara I enjoyed in my small apartment with friends tasted just as delicious as the turkey and potatoes I am used to sharing with my family.  The experience gave me new memories and let me appreciate the new friendships I’ve made during my time here.

Although I may have missed my family on Christmas day, I still enjoyed the relaxing day off I had.  And at the end of the day, it is just 24 hours. I think this is important to remember, especially for those homesick over the festive period.  Try and give yourself something to look forward to in order to distract you from missing the celebration.  The day will come and go, and you will be able to experience Christmas as the local people wherever you may be spending the day.  It will also let you appreciate your next Christmas at home even more, and you’ll be able to entertain the table with tales of your travels abroad!