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Christmas is on the way. Back home I would’ve spent the last week locked up in the kitchen with my Mum and we’d be making dumplings, basting meats, spicing up huge vats of beetroot soup. Nuts would be shelled, pork aspic would be cooled down by stirring it outside, ovens with baking cakes would be supervised till late hours. My sister would pop by now and then, officially to borrow some flour or honey for her gingerbread cookies, but really to have a cup of coffee from Mum’s coffee machine. My brother would be trying to arrange the order of the various Christmas dinners he has to attend with his wife. My niece and nephew would be making huge eyes at the Christmas tree and trying to get themselves burned by putting their little fingers in all the wrong places. My father, a case of severe pre-Christmas stress disorder, would have to be pacified by being given an important and preferably time-consuming task, like going to get an aunt living two hours away. Everyone always complains about the rush of these last few days, but for me, this is what Christmas atmosphere is about: the planning, the sharing out of duties, the preparing of it; all of us together, every year the same way. Christmas itself is just like icing on the cake, a time to rest and enjoy the fruits of our work.

Here my kitchen is empty and there’ll be no cooking in it, no tree in the living room. When I go out, Christmas decorations are everywhere, but you’ll never see the crib or the Baby inside it. It’s always Santa’s huge face staring at you from the windows: come and do some shopping! We’ll play American carols for you! We’ve translated them into Chinese! The bells are not even jingling as much as ding-ding-danging. Western-style pubs are going all Christmas-happy with their decorations, to lure the forlorn Westerners into stepping in and pretending they’re home.

But it all doesn’t feel right. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I won’t be sitting at home and crying myself to sleep or anything. My friends are having a farewell/Christmas party, we’re planning a hike and some bowling – I’ll have heaps of fun. I’m simply wondering if it’s better to feel Christmas around and be sad that you’re not celebrating it the way you’re used to, or not to have the atmosphere at all and feel like it doesn’t matter, because it’s not Christmas anyway. Just a big commercial feast with no meaning to it.

But I don’t want to come across as teary and philosophical – all these musings only pour out when I actually think about it (which I don’t do often), and things always seem exaggerated when put in writing. So believe me when I say that life is quite peachy.

To prove it: here’s a short briefing from my very intense Christmas run-up. Monday: birthday party in a pub, finished in another pub with another party, bed at 5 am. Tuesday: follow-up to the birthday party – a visit to a Chinese teahouse, bed at 3. Wednesday: board games followed by hanging out in a bar (that one included – shhh – some illegal herbal substances), bed at 4. Thursday: free sausages in a bar, crashed a birthday party with a huge Gouda cheese serving as the cake, bed at 6. Friday: showing around a friend’s flatmate, ended up in a pub with Couch Surfers, crazy dancing and tequila shots for 5 RMB, walk back to get my bicycle, in bed at 4.30. Finally today, Christmas Eve: friends’ Christmas/farewell party. Leaving as soon as I finish writing this. Add to this: a Christmas box from the Mother of All Mothers with sweets, Polish sausage, beetroot concentrate to make my own borsch and (what else) another batch of home-made liqueurs – and how could I possibly have any worries in the world?

So, after all – Merry Christmas to everyone!

Christmas decorations available for purchase in Wal-Mart.

Smiling Santa in a bakery’s window.

A Christmas-crazed pub: no actual space to serve beer on the counter. All taken over by an invasion of cuddly reindeer and snowmen.

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