Today marks the first Christmas I have spent away from my family and home. Instead of waking up at the first sight of sunlight to open presents, I slept in, took my time getting ready, and reminded myself that today truly is Christmas day.
The library is open, everyone is at school, and the city is progressing on as if nothing special is happening. Of course, to the majority of the Taiwanese, this is any other day in December. As I’ve mentioned before, Christmas is almost exclusively commercial here, so there is not nearly as much weight to the date as there is in the States. In fact, I went to the post office today to send some letters simply because that’s something you can’t do in America. I honestly thought it was so cool to go to the post office on Christmas.
While I am not glad to be missing celebrating the holiday with my family in America, I am also not depressed over the matter. To be frank, the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has a sad twinge to it since I am not, in fact, home for Christmas. However, today feels almost normal rather than special, and I actually appreciate the normalcy of it.
I am beyond thankful for my American family for sending such thoughtful gifts and for my host family in Taiwan for being so accommodating and interested about my culture on this important holiday.
On Christmas Eve, I sat in the living room and wrote some letters while listening to Andy Williams and my all-time-favorite A Very She and Him Christmas. To my delight, my host parents surprised me with a wonderful gift!
I was tired of Christmas music (too much of a good thing), so I unwrapped the gift while listening to Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. Nothing gets more American than that!
My host parents were kind enough to give me three wall maps! One contains the entire world with major landmarks labeled in Chinese. The other two are maps of Taiwan with various cities and important animals and other famous places labeled. I’m excited to study these maps to learn more about Taiwan!
After I opened the present, we all sat around the coffee table and ate some after-dinner Taiwanese-style barbecue (easily one of my favorite food categories). It was such a pleasant way to spend Christmas Eve, and I’m so lucky to have such a welcoming and amazing host family.
Because the college I attend in Taiwan is a Catholic university, we did not have class today. The day off from school is much appreciated, and it really helped make the most of the holiday.
Once I was fully awake, I Skyped my family as we opened presents together. I must say that, without technology, studying abroad would be a completely different experience for me. It is so convenient to be able to Skype or Facebook message whenever, and it makes being away from home easier.
My family in America sent the perfect gifts to Taiwan. Not only did I get a stylish cat shirt from my aunt, but I also got Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from my family in Mississippi. Reese’s are incredibly hard to find here, and I’m so excited to have them. My aunt also sent homemade fudge which definitely put me in the holiday mood.
My mom was also thoughtful enough to send a mini-Whitman’s sampler. For whatever reason, it is our family tradition to buy a Whitman’s sampler and eat it on Christmas day. I’m not sure what the origin of the tradition is, but it is an absolute necessity in the Ryan household on Christmas day. It was so nice to still be able to partake in a long-honored tradition while in Taiwan.
After Skypeing, I went with a bunch of the kids on my program for American food at a local restaurant. I’ve been there twice before with my host family, and it is authentic and absolutely delicious. While I don’t necessarily miss or crave American food, it is nice to get a big, thick burger or a huge slab of bacon for lunch.
On a final note, I’m truly beginning to appreciate not to have the perspective of “missing out” on things happening in the motherland. While I might miss out on things like Christmas or birthdays, I am experiencing so many new and exciting things here. Focusing on what I am “missing” is a waste of time, and that time would better be invested in other pursuits. Sometimes, it feels awful missing out on important events, but I must remind myself that there is so much to look forward to in terms of holidays and culture here!
As my Christmas comes to a close and yours begins, I want to thank you all in America for being there for me while I’m here. It means a lot to me, and I wish you all the happiest of Christmases!
Brendan Farrell Ryan