I have spent the past two weeks in a stressful frenzy, tirelessly searching for the perfect Christmas presents for my family and friends. Like me, most students are scrambling for gift ideas and many are counting down the days until winter break in anticipation of a vacation in the Caribbean or an extravagant holiday dinner with their family. Even though I have grown up in this world, it seems increasingly foreign to me after my celebration last year.
In my family, the winter holidays are not huge events. We exchange gifts minimally and, as embarrassing as it is to say, eat fast food for dinner. However, by spending the holidays abroad last year, my family finally enjoyed the “holiday spirit” promoted in America today.
It was not a memorable holiday because we finally began buying expensive presents for each other (we had not previously participated in that tradition at all). When my parents flew to Beijing, the city I was studying in for my school year abroad, to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with me, I really felt like we were celebrating my survival.
My friends and I were proud of weathering the first two months of almost incomprehensible communication with our host mothers, the twice-daily Chinese character quizzes, and the formation of relationships with new friends. I felt more accomplished merely because I had finally adapted to China’s pace and culture enough to enjoy my time there. I felt more accomplished than I have ever felt after completing a year of school at home. We were discouraged from returning home for the holidays (only one student out of forty-eight went back to the U.S.), but most of us were happier that our parents came to us. We wanted to show off what we had learned.
I spent our three weeks of vacation almost entirely with my parents. Even though we were eating spicy green beans and dumplings, served to us by waiters dressed up as elves, we finally celebrated Christmas with a big dinner.
I did not go abroad to China, a largely nonreligious (though very spiritual) country, to create my family’s American holiday spirit, but it was an added benefit.
Especially during this hectic, test-crammed three-week sprint before break when life’s pace can seem overwhelming, I can look forward to the holidays with a greater appreciation of my family, school life, and even our inevitable fast food dinner.