"But I ..."
"Wait a moment."
"Yes, OK, but I ..."
I raised my eyebrow. Perfect? My coworker had been in a few times so far, adding to and fidgeting with the many decorations she was adorning me with. Becoming her little human Christmas was my payback for utterly ignoring the arrival of this not-so-festive of days.
She handed me her phone, already in selfie mode, and I cautiously took a look.
It was as I feared. Glitter and green and red and gold everywhere.
Grinning from ear to ear, she left my classroom humming "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."
Much like last year, I'd attempted a Grinch-like approach to these holidays. Grumbling about commercialism and refusing to decorate anything. I'd already been asked many times why I didn't like Christmas.
"It's just not the same living overseas," I'd reply, hoping my vague answer would satisfy them. Often it did, but it didn't stop anyone from wanting the foreigner to pump out some Christmas spirit anyway.
Despite it being a largely atheist country, the novelty of a western Christmas caught on quick in China as December neared. Santas popped up on sales windows, and kids giggled about what presents they wanted.
It was enough to make me crazy.
Yes, I was the same ol' holiday grump, but with one notable exception: I refused to fall into the same sadness I had last year.
I'm sure we can all remember my yuletide bitching — the sulking and moping about Christmas. But the holiday slump I sank into taught me a lesson about myself and about my new circumstances: I needed to learn quick how to adapt and make these holidays my own.
Half the reason behind my seasonal grumpiness was missing all those things "we always did." Mostly, I just miss the hell out of my family.
So last year, I pouted and wallowed alone. Not again. This time, I would surround myself with people and lighthearted distraction.
I hadn't created new traditions, per se, but I'd found my own joy in a holiday season overseas. I stayed busy and smiled and marched around with glitter-coated ta-tas. When my thoughts went to my family, they were bright — they came from a mind that was happy and healthy, surrounded by love.
Back at school, the ornaments hanging from my many ear piercings clanged as I turned to welcome my last student.
"Hello, Claire!" I said with a silly grin. Giggles erupted from her and from all my other 6- and 7-year-olds. Playing dumb, I asked them what was so funny. Hardly able to contain themselves, they all pointed to the decorations.
"Oh, don't you know? I'm the school's Christmas tree!" I said, bouncing up and posing like a tree. Shrieks of laughter. I smiled back.
Just as I'd adjusted to so much else in my new expat life, I'd finally — and successfully — adapted to holidays overseas. Still a Grinch, but one ready to bring happiness to her little Whoville-esque community.