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Alexandra Sieh
Alexandra Sieh

‘Twas a chilly Christmas morning, and all through the hutong, not a stray dog was stirring, not even a —

Hhhhhhglech. Splat.

Well, the neighbor was stirring, anyway, spitting and coughing just outside my window and muttering in his thick Beijing dialect. Downstairs, the heater plunked and creaked a bit. The woman next door began singing her creaky, off-key tunes as she did every day around this time. Haunting lines of some old Chinese song wafted through cracks in my walls.


This expat, nestled quite snug in her bed, had exhausted the snooze button for hours. There just wasn’t any good reason to get up. Not until Manfriend was home, at least, later that evening.

Ding. Another “Merry Christmas!” message flicked across my cellphone screen. I clicked the screen off again. No number of festive emojis was going to get me out of bed. I’d been a gloomy girl all December, dammit, and today was the main event. The only visions dancing in my head were those of my family and friends — the people I missed most.

I rolled over and fell back asleep.

Noon would be as fine a time as any to get up.

Since moving abroad, all of my holidays had gone this way. Search the archives, and you’ll see no shortage of bitching to this effect. This year was no different, with me moping all month.

But something had been different this year.

And as I heard quite a clatter at the door very early that Christmas afternoon, it was obvious enough what the difference had been. I sprang up from the couch to find Manfriend, coffee and pastries in hand, there to surprise the holiday gloom out of me.

Quite the holiday miracle, indeed.

See, unlike past years, when I stubbornly locked myself away, this year I’d had a new sort of family to come home to. Someone to lift my spirits when long hours at work and short, cold days had me down.

It was the sense of home I’d been missing since moving abroad all that time ago.

With no Christmas traditions of his own, and all of mine left in the U.S., Manfriend and I made our own. We nestled up with action movies and booked hostels for our upcoming vacations. While I called my parents that evening, he shouted out his own comments that I’d then pass along to my mom with a chuckle.

It was the most tear-free holiday I’d had in Beijing.

While Christmas has passed for you all back home — trust me, I saw your tinsel-covered Facebook statuses — I still wish you all a happy holiday season. I hope the Merry Christmas Man, as my students call Santa, brought you everything you wanted and that your days have been bright with love.

I’ll see you all in 2018.

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