Emily Stamp is an enthusiastic solo globetrotter who managed, for the first time, to spend last Christmas away from home - and guess what, she survived! She survived so well that she is doing the same again this year. In this chipper but honest article, she tells how she managed it, what she did and how she feels about it now.
The horror of spending Christmas alone, without friends or family, is something many people would rather never think about. For some nothing seems bleaker than the images of being old and alone on Christmas or not spending the day in your PJs with the family, with no Christmas dinner, no presents and no awkward family reunion. For most, even the thought of spending it with their partner’s family for the first time is daunting enough - family traditions lost and, even worse, having to adjust to someone else’s holiday routines (however weird they may be!).
So when I told people that I voluntarily wasn’t spending Christmas with my family last year, most looked at me with pity. What was I going to do? How was I going to survive? I wasn’t even spending it with friends. Instead, I would be travelling solo; spending the day itself in China (which doesn’t even really celebrate it); and with a time difference so large that arranging a phone call would be awkward.
I thought I would be fine, it was four days into my trip, which is nothing compared to how long I spend at uni without speaking to my family (sorry parents…). I didn’t go to the Christmas Eve party in my hostel, because I didn’t want to remember that I was away from my family; and I was fine, to an extent. I tried to make the day itself special, which may have been a mistake. I can now say that I spent Christmas day on the Great Wall of China, which is pretty cool, but I also had hummus and vegetables for lunch, which was weird and a tad miserable compared to the fanfare of Christmas dinner. Also, China doesn’t celebrate Christmas but there were decorations and carols everywhere, which made for an odd experience. Solo travelling also means less communication with people; there were no friends to chat away with, and therefore no one to wish me a “Merry Christmas”. In fact, I sort of only said hello to waiters, a bus driver and ticket staff all day.
It would be far worse to travel in a country where everything shut down on Christmas day, so that you could really feel lonely, so comparatively I had a lovely day. However, I returned to my hostel early (as it was cold and dark outside) to a grand total of 0 people in my room. Then, my parents rang. It was nice to speak to them but hearing my family on the phone only reinforced the notion that I was alone in a random hostel, in a huge city where I knew virtually no one.
It would be sad for my day to have ended there, but then a Christmas miracle arrived five hours later in the form of three bubbly Chinese hostel mates. When I told them about it being Christmas, they insisted on grabbing food and we shared snacks and talked about what it meant to me, comparing it to Chinese New Year in terms of holiday scale. Those girls may not have known it, but they were a little light in my lonely day and I was so grateful.
After all of that, it may come as a surprise that this year I am also spending Christmas in a foreign country, although most likely not alone this time. After experiencing it once, the second time will hopefully be easier. My family didn’t seem to mind either (in fact my brother sent a rather enthusiastic snapchat at the idea of me being away again), and I am glad of their continued support for my random globetrotting.
Anything new is scary and changing a longstanding tradition is even more so, but it can be done and if you meet the right people it can be wonderful regardless of being away from family. At some point most of us will have to transition from family Christmases to new family Christmases, or family-in-law Christmases and some of us may end up working abroad, unable to get the holidays off.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have your own traditions, and that you can’t make the most out of your day. Keep in mind what is special to you, and know that spending the holidays away from family isn’t the end of the world (even if it feels strange)!