This July 4th I was thinking of all the Holidays I spent abroad. For the first 6 months or so I thought it was fun to fully immerse myself and celebrate Chinese holidays, I worked through American holidays and sleepily sent Skype greetings to my friends on the way to bed. We all have that one moment where you realize what you are doing is not working. For me it was the night I was out at one of my favorite lounges with my friends from the Netherlands and a Miley Cyrus song "Party in the USA" came on. I must inform you I am not a fan of Miley Cyrus' music but, the song was from home. I couldn’t control myself...
So I put my hands up
They're playing my song,
And the butterflies fly away
Noddin' my head like, yeah
Movin' my hips like, yeah
I got my hands up,
They're playin' my song
You know I'm gonna be okay
Yeah, it's a party in the USA
Yeah it's a party in the USA
Lucky for me I was not the only one dancing. Let's be clear, I would have continued dancing anyway but I would have been exponentially more embarrassed. Years later and with much more experience under my belt, I would even find a way to celebrate St Patrick’s day in the Middle East. Your idea of a great St. Patrick’s Day probably involves something a little stronger than a 4-pack of lime Pellegrino (the greenest and the closest thing to beer I could find) but hey work with what you got right!
I was never big on holidays at home outside of Christmas and New Years. You might assume I slept through the fireworks this year and you would not be wrong. It is common for folks like myself to assume that we won't miss out on much forgoing our favorite American holidays while living abroad. Won't we have enough fun when that family member that's been promising to come finally visits us, or when we visit home in 6 months or so? The problem with this train of thought is that over time missing celebrations with family and friends is one of the top 3 reasons expats in China choose to pack up and move back home.
It’s really easy to skip holidays particularly when odds are you will be working, but the best way to keep from focusing on what you are missing is to appreciate what you have. Celebrating holidays from your home also helps to reconcile your life in China with your life and traditions before China. Most days you are forced to adjust to others in how you communicate and live, but this is the time you can just relax and be you! Here are a few ideas to get your holiday creativity flowing:
Put a new spin on my old traditions
You might be tempted to keep it simple and just go out to eat. Don't cheat yourself. I know you; since you moved to China you eat out most of the time. Do something different.
· Host a theme party, most of the July 4th fireworks and flags etc. are made in China, so take a quick trip to a factory town and stock up on decor.
· Ask expat friends to share a bring a food that is special to them and have them share a story about their favorite holiday
· Have a themed movie night and spring for some imported movie theater butter popcorn, watch an old classic like the 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
· Call your best expat bud and try to remix traditional holiday food with local ingredients. Maybe a Thanksgiving roast pig? Cook something crazy together and see how it goes. Don’t worry McDonald’s delivers if it doesn’t work out.
Create a new tradition
If thinking about recreating a holiday event gets you down, you may want to create a new tradition. Start fresh!
· Spend the weekend at a luxurious bathhouse or spa and hotel (believe it or not these can even get pricey in China)
· Check something off of your bucket list
· Take a train ride to a nearby city
· Organize a citywide scavenger hunt
· Buy a few silly holiday hats and trinkets and take to your local park. Bonus: Try to explain to the locals how you celebrate at home with a game of Charades
Whatever you do, invite a friend. One thing you can always find in China is an expat up for an adventure!
So what is the after school special moral of the story here? I'm glad you asked. When it comes down to it, holidays are really about taking time to connect with your community and the people you love. Take the opportunity to consciously connect with your new home and your new environment. Don’t let a measly 7,000 miles stop you from celebrating. 💃🎉