I’m sure you know by now that Christmas is just around the corner. For some of us it’s a time of religious celebration for others it’s this rare instance when imposed religion gave the population something good, namely presents. Christmas songs have probably been haunting all of us for a while and we may be tired of seeing all the gifts suggestions in the malls and online. Christmas is, however, when whether we want it or not, we are reminded about the things that really matter due to the excess of free time. It can be either a positive season of gratitude or a sad time of realisation that you don’t have the people around you that you would like to be surrounded with.
Coming from non-believing and divorced parents doesn’t help you to be appreciative of Christmas. Presents, food and being forced to call distant family members is pretty much how I could summarise my typical celebrations. I always REALLY loved the gifts and I equally enjoyed both giving and receiving. Apart from that, I liked the wafer that you traditionally share with the family over the Christmas table but I never really considered the season to be anything special. In short, I was taking for granted the fact that I would be surrounded by my family and showered with gifts every year.
That was true till I left the country and after four months of being in South Africa the internship I came here for and my relationship that started when I was “fresh off the boat” really weren’t working. I ended up spending Christmas with my boyfriend and his family who told his mom but not me that he was meaning to break up with me so she didn’t know how to introduce me to others on a Xmas event as she wasn’t sure whether he had done the deed yet or not. Eventually, he told me “he wanted to sexually experience other people” on Boxing Day (SURPRISE). On actual Christmas Day I ended up on a trip which I had committed to with my then already ex which consisted of hiking at 12 o’clock and partying afterwards where the trail ended. I was hungover as one would be after suffering a major heartbreak the previous day and surrounded by strangers I had to endure conversations with when I was literally dying inside. Still, this was better than being on my own on Christmas, because guess what, as a newly arrived and newly single expat, you don’t have that many options for not being on your own during this period. People have families and even more established expats get invited to Christmas functions of others. Even the ones who don’t celebrate this event often go away for a few days. In short, even if you’re relatively sociable but new in the country or just single with coupled friends you may end up having a bleak Christmas.
I thought that after that year I achieved my Xmassy low but the next year wasn’t much better. I was recovering from yet another heartbreak after a too long fling filled with drama and on the top of it, I really wasn’t doing great financially. South Africa was a tough market for translations and I was considering leaving, even though I put so much effort and money into trying to have my life sorted here. In other words, I wasn’t in the greatest state of mind to spend some time alone, as yet AGAIN, everyone went away for Christmas.
I was missing presents these two years of course, but they were nothing in comparison with how I missed having people who cared about me around (or at least people who knew me). Being a bit lonely as you move to a new country is a normal thing but the loneliness is magnified during the festive season. Even if you have a partner but not the partner, spending Christmas with his family feels less lonely but definitely not fulfilling (this was my experience during my third Christmas in Cape Town). Now, I feel real gratitude when I have my husband to spend a non-traditional Christmas with and it feels great to have that someone special with you.
I think paradoxically, having experienced a bleak Christmas more than once taught me to appreciate having important people around me during this time of the year. When most people are with their families and you’re on your own and not because of your choice, it’s sad. Sure, you can do something with someone and you’ll always find some company but it’s not the point of life. What is important is to be with people you care about and who care about you. It’s a great opportunity to create good memories with them. Nothing reminds us more about the importance of real connections than the season which is meant to be used for tending to them.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re traditional and spend Christmas attending numerous masses or whether in a less conservative way you decide to go on a Christmas hike (or travel or do anything else that’s less orthodox). What matters are the people around you and quality matters much more than quantity. If you and your family are not on great terms, you can let it be but remember that it’s important to find people in your life who should fulfil the roles they failed to. If you’re lonely this Christmas, you’ll definitely survive but try to make sure that next year there’ll be at least one someone special in your life to share the holiday break with. If you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by all you want for Christmas, then be grateful and remember that not everyone has that.
Merry Xmas, Dear Rinsers. The comment section is all yours to let me know about your thoughts on Christmas, best and worst Christmas stories and whatever else you feel like you’d like to share.