“So, how was your night last night?”
I looked up, confused. I had just sat down for my Chinese class and was a bit baffled by my teacher’s question.
“Wasn’t it Thanksgiving?”
I explained that Manfriend and I hadn’t celebrated — we never did. As the only American in our cozy little hutong home, it was up to me to dictate holiday observance. And as my family had minimal to no exuberance for this particular day, I sure didn’t have any need to celebrate.
I hadn’t for years.
She nodded, and we went on with class. Walking back to the subway station, I listened to my younger sister’s messages. Living in her little corner of Maine, she was experiencing her own holiday musings.
While my friends forgave my lack of observance — the more miles, the less I need to “do holidays,” I guess — her own friends seemed to hold her to more traditional expectations. While her perfect scene for the evening would be her laughing and dining with her partner, alone in their home, their friends disagreed.
“I hate the pity or condescension or whatever it is,” she bemoaned via WeChat messaging. “Why can’t they understand that I don’t have to fit into their traditional picture of what this holiday looks like?”
I remember my friends thinking my family was odd for opening Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. How for Thanksgiving, we rarely had the proper turkey dinner. Or how, as I grew older, I’d work on Christmas Day — on most holidays, actually — without batting an eye. Even now, I’m the odd one for opting out of bar crawls or expat feasts each holiday season.
And here’s why: That’s me. My personal definition doesn’t include prescribed holiday joy, and that’s OK. Just like it was OK that my sister preferred a night in with her man, and my close friend back home went all out catering her first beautiful thanksgiving feast.
We all had our things, our interests and our ideas of what we wanted from this time of year.
And while I’ve always known this, living abroad made it all the more clear: Defining myself extended outward, to my routines, my choices and my own traditions.
For me, Thanksgiving was forgettable, and Christmas will be spent lazing about with Manfriend. And for that one holiday I look forward to — New Years — we’ll be traipsing around a frozen city in northern China. It’ll look a lot different than nearly every photo I’ll see on my social media feeds, but it’ll also be distinctly me.
So wherever you are, with whatever beliefs and traditions you have, I hope you focus on the happiness, small or large. No Norman Rockwell painting can define this for you — your preference is as lovely as anyone else’s.