How to celebrate Christmas as an ‘orphaned’ expat
Move to a time zone 14 hours ahead of your family. After you settle in, research the price of a flight from Tokyo to New York around Christmas. Have a heart attack. Tell your parents you’re not coming home this year. Half believe them when they say they understand.
Try to stay positive about it. Remember what a pain in the ass it is fly anytime near Christmas and how stressful short trips home for holidays can be. Remember how cold it is where your parents live. Maybe this will be OK. Know that you’re lying to yourself. Feel equal parts free and depressed.
Get proactive. Buy all of your presents in one weekend. Make a list on Friday night. Order everything that’s coming from the internet on Saturday morning. Go out and buy everything else on Saturday afternoon. Wrap the gifts and package and mail them on Wednesday.
Do all this a week before Thanksgiving, just in case there’s a mail strike or something and it takes six weeks to ship this stuff. Buy your husband’s gift online from a retailer he recognizes and believe him when he sees the box but says he has no idea what you got him. Consider getting a decoy box next year.
Get tagged in a photo on Facebook by your mom. It’s of the Christmas village you have built almost every year since you were a kid. She built it with your brother and sister this year. Notice that the cathedral is on the south side of town, and wonder how everyone is going to walk to Midnight Mass in the snow when they live all the way on the other side of the windowsill.
Start receiving Christmas presents in the mail and pile them in your spare bedroom. Look at them every now and then and realize how generous your family is and how they know you’re going to be sad so they’re sending pretty packages to cheer you up. Your dad even sends a tiny Charlie Brown-esque tree. Start to feel like you’re letting your family down somehow. Then sit on the couch with your husband and feel like if you’re sad you’re letting him down, because that means a Christmas of two won’t be enough. Of course it will.
Start playing your Christmas playlist all the time. Luckily you and your husband agree on what Christmas albums are best, except he doesn’t understand Mariah Carey’s seminal classic “All I Want for Christmas” (which is your favorite holiday karaoke song), and the hair stands up on your arms when he plays ‘Christmas Jazz’. Wrap your husband’s gifts, go shopping for a stocking for him, exchange anniversary gifts (why, oh why did you get married so close to Christmas?), watch Elf, give your neighbors little bottles of eggnog and rum, build the Hello Kitty gingerbread house your sister sent you. Smile when you hear Christmas music in the grocery store or see boats in your local marina covered in colored lights. Enjoy everything.
Ask your best friend in the neighborhood what she’s up to on Christmas Day. She’ll be drinking champagne and watching Christmas movies in her pajamas with her kids all day, which sounds like a dream come true. Realize you have nothing to do on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. You’ve been making hypothetical plans for months, but most of them are impossible. Drinking pina coladas in a hot tub all day, for example, sounded great in September, but now you’re not sure how to make it happen. Make a list of all your favorite foods and all your favorite people who you haven’t called in a while. On Christmas Eve, plan to wear a new pair of flannel pajamas, drink eggnog, Skype everyone you love, and eat food that will make you feel bad about yourself all day.
Consider doing whatever the local people do on Christmas Day. Realize they do nothing, since it’s not a holiday here. Close your eyes and picture what you wanted to do on Christmas as a kid. At first you’ll just envision opening gifts and eating cocktail wieners with your family at your cousin’s house, but then it will come to you. You want to go to the movies and eat Chinese food. As a kid you always saw that in the movies and some kids from school did that and it sounded so exotic and fun. Now it can be your Christmas. Les Miserables has got to be playing somewhere around here.
Of course, you understand this is a stereotyped Jewish tradition, and you’re not even sure if the people who talked about it at school actually did it or just watched the same movies as you. It doesn’t matter. It’s happening. Tell your parents your plan. Nod and agree when they remind you you’re Catholic, not Jewish, but stay the course and look up movie times.
Be thankful that you have family to miss.