While Christmas has become mainstream in China, spending it alone can be a difficult time.
You won’t be surrounded by family and friends you grew up with, and the cultural traditions of a ‘China Christmas’ are different from what you’re used to. Luckily though, there are plenty of things you can do to keep yourself busy and keep your festive spirits high.
1. Start Christmas Day with a walk
If you wake up with the Christmas blues in China, put your joggers on and go for a long walk. A walk can help clear your head, pace your thoughts and calm you down. Try to head out early in the morning while there aren’t too many people around.
If you’re planning on indulging in a Christmas feast for lunch or dinner, a walk can help curb stress-eating later in the day. Walking releases endorphins into your system and reverses the cortisol levels in your body, meaning you’re less likely to eat junk food.
2. Have a ‘traditional’ feast at a hotel
Many hotels in China cater to foreigners wanting a Christmas banquet, as well as curious locals who want a taste of overseas fare. While it may not be exactly what you’re served up at home, the food should still be relatively traditional, like ham, turkey, chicken and roast vegetables.
Many hotels in China offer a traditional Christmas feast, including roast chicken and vegetables.
If you’re teaching English in China, by the time Christmas comes around you would have built a strong network of friends, including foreign teachers, local teachers and possibly adult students. So why not invite some of them along?
3. Call loved ones back home
There’s no better feeling than speaking to someone you love when you’re feeling a bit lonely in China. Whether it’s your partner, mum, brother or best friend, chatting to someone special will help you have a good Christmas and motivate you to keep on going in China.
Online chat sites like Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger make it quick and easy to stay in touch with family and friends. Now you can basically be in the same room as your family on Christmas!
You could also try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Figure out which friend, relative or even neighbour might be feeling lonely in your home country. Sometimes even a “Hi, I’m thinking of you” phone call reminds someone they aren’t alone and are being thought about. It may be all you and they need to get over this holiday hump.
Christmas is all about giving, so why not give a present to someone while you’re in China?
Giving apples as gifts, although a recent tradition, is one of China’s unique additions to the festivities, and a great example of how the Chinese like to play with homophones (words that sound alike).
Christmas Eve is translated as 平安夜, ping'an ye, which means a safe and peaceful night. And the word for apple is very similar (苹果, píngguŏ), making it ‘the fruit of being safe’ in Chinese. Hence the reason for giving apples as Christmas gifts.
ESL teachers in China can get a buzz by seeing the reaction on their students’ faces when giving them a Christmas apple. It’s nice to embrace new traditions.
Giving the gift of your time can also be special. Many foreign teachers get the day off in China (though it’s not a public holiday) so you could use the time by teaching some kids in your neighborhood Christmas words and sayings, and sharing some of your Christmas traditions from home. Doing good deeds can make you feel happy!
5. Make your day humorous
Watch comedies on TV or YouTube, laugh at people and yourself, and look for reasons why the things you take seriously are comedic.
Watching comedies on YouTube is one way to beat the yuletide blues while you're alone in China at Christmas.
There are some classic Christmas movies, like Elf and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, that are sure to get you laughing (as well as get you in the Christmas spirit). Just make sure you avoid tear-jerkers like Love Actually and Miracle on 34th Street.
6. Go to a church service
While China’s ruling party is officially atheist, there are Christian churches throughout the country. That makes it relatively easy for those who are religious to spend Christmas in a holy place.
In China’s biggest cities, like Shanghai and Beijing, you’re likely to bump into other foreigners who have the same idea as you. After the service, you could invite your new friends to a restaurant or to go see a movie with you.
7. Start planning for the new year
Having some quiet time is a great opportunity to plan for the new year. What worked for you this year? What didn’t? Write down what you want to achieve next year. Hold yourself accountable to your goals by making them measurable.
While you may be alone in China, it doesn’t mean you have to spend Christmas being lonely. There are a number of things you can do to keep busy and have a good time. And remember, it’s just one day!
Are you spending Christmas alone in China? What tips do you have for others? Share your tips below.