Christmas in Shanghai

While the beginning of December is a joyous time when we look forward to a sea or bush holiday and Christmas lists drawn up by the little ones, this time of year also holds deep longing and nostalgia. At Christmas time, we always think of the children and grandchildren or the brothers and sisters celebrating Christmas on the other side of the world on their own. This week we asked Ilsé Malherbe how she celebrates Christmas in Shanghai.

To me, Christmas is synonymous with family, happy children and excitement.

For 26 years, I spent every Christmas with my family: Watching Christmas lights in the streets; visiting Emperors Palace’s Garden of Lights; dressing up in every piece of red and green clothing I had; having a huge meal or braai; Christmas crackers, and of course the iconic Christmas paper crowns.

But things were different in the last two years. Christmas was different. No family, no crackers, no tradition. It has been tough for this girl who would love to celebrate Christmas twice a year and is obsessed with Christmas sweaters.

Then you meet angels along the way whom you call friends. Friends who are not going to have their traditional Christmas either. Friends who know and understand the loneliness and longing. Friends who become family. So, we make these difficult days special for each other.

Shanghai definitely goes big at Christmas: The streets are full of lights, massive Christmas trees around every corner, Christmas shows and a Christmas market every weekend, and glühwein in every restaurant.

Last year’s Christmas was like something from a movie: a tree lighting ceremony and a Christmas bed made by one of my best friends. Xander ensured a festive Christmas Eve. A braai at Uncle Paul’s house with more than enough food for the whole of Shanghai made us all feel at home.

This year I have a real, genuine Christmas tree for the first time, and I wear a different Christmas outfit every Friday. We will spend Christmas at the beach with friends who have become family: sun, sea and sand, and a buffet dinner at a classy restaurant.

A video call to South Africa and a box of gifts in the mail will have to be enough for now.

ALSO READ: 300 Santas in Guangzhou, China

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