Christmas away from home: Happy Holidays in Shanghai

January 05, 2019 | Teach English in Shanghai

If you move aboard to teach English for a year, then this might include spending your first Christmas away from home. Christmas isn’t an official holiday in China. However, with Shanghai being a large international city, many Chinese people join in with the custom of giving gifts and decorating. Many streets and shops were lit up with Christmas lights and there were even a selection of Christmas markets to visit!

This Christmas was my first where I wasn’t with my family, but instead I got to experience Christmas in Shanghai with my new friends. I found that at times I did find myself feeling a little down that I was perhaps missing out at home, or that I wasn’t getting that ‘Christmassy’ feeling. The best thing to do was accept that this year was going to be different, embrace it, make an effort and enjoy sharing this part of my culture with my students.

Christmas at school

We got pretty into it at school. The company made sure all the campuses were decorated and we allocated some lesson time to Christmas activities. In some of my classes we learnt Christmas songs. Jingle bells proved very popular! With my older students we made and wrote our own Christmas cards that they could then give to their parents. I even managed to sneak in a fair bit of the movie Elf. The kids loved it and it was an enjoyable experience for me. I exchanged gifts with some of my Chinese colleagues. This was really nice because it gave me a chance to acknowledge what they do every day to help me in and out of class, and let them know I really appreciate it.

Around Shanghai

Christmas in Shanghai

The city of Shanghai didn’t scrimp on the old Christmas decorations. All the shopping malls had big displays and Christmas trees. Lots of restaurants and bars had special Christmas menus set up, so getting your Christmas meal in was easy! What surprised me most was the selection of Christmas markets that opened throughout December. I really enjoyed a few evenings out at the different markets, sipping mulled wine and munching the delicious treats on offer.

Christmas Day

We wanted to make an effort Christmas Day. Luckily it fell on a Tuesday which is the day most of us have off, otherwise we would have had to work. A group of friends came over to my apartment and we cooked Christmas dinner together in my tiny and temperamental oven. I was able to order turkey and all the trimmings from, which is an amazing expat online supermarket in Shanghai. We even ordered a huge gingerbread house, which is not something I would have expected to find in Shanghai. It was a lovely day spent drinking all the drinks and playing all the games. So although we weren’t at home with our families, we got to have a special day with our Shanghai family. I’m sure the Christmas season in China will be a highlight of my year here.

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