As a born and bred atheist from a family of born and bred atheists, I’ve never cared much about Christmas. Not even the commercial-Christmas that sweeps the nation every November 1st. I am the Grinch pre-heart-engorgement.
My family have never given presents ourselves. The fuss of cards and trees are social customs I participated mostly from peer pressure. I love “All I Want For Christmas Is You” not because it’s seasonal, but because it is a banger.
But there is one tradition we’ve faithfully adhered to: Chinese Christmas parties. With our extended family thousands of miles away in China, my parents and I have always celebrated with a close group of Chinese immigrant families in our town.
Other immigrant kids might relate. Chinese Christmases have a very particular energy. It’s not good or bad energy, but idiosyncratic. Our parents became friends because they were the only Chinese people in the neighborhood. So, they threw their children together too. I had known these other kids since I was a toddler; they were my first friends.
Still, I only see them once a year (in a series of parties in quick succession between the 24th-NYE). I knew them before their voices broke, I know far too much detail about their exam grades (thank you Chinese Tiger Parent Gossip Circle), I know their card game strategies (is Bombs a universal Chinese Christmas game?). Yet I know very little about their real lives. Who their friends are, what music or movies or books they like, what their go-to restaurant is.
It’s comfortable in the way it always is with people who’ve known you forever. But there are invisible lines that we’re too uncertain to cross and too polite to mention exist. It’s the nature of growing up, and, hard as it is to admit, growing apart. We play board games and card games and the Sims until 1 am not because they’re fun, but because they become a necessary break from small talk.
When our parents suggested we do a Zoom Chinese Christmas this year amidst the pandemic, I was a little apprehensive. Zoom calls and FaceTimes can be awkward with even your absolute closest ride-or-dies. But the call was so fun I felt bad that I doubted it would be.
Like every year, we caught up and continued our lofty tradition of game night. We played online pictionary and Would I Lie To You?. By the 4th round of destroying decades-long friendships over Among Us, it was 2:30 in the morning.
I became excited for when we can gather for Chinese Christmas again (vaccine permitting). I miss my dad, flushed red with wine, heckling us about our relationships. I miss our collective shock when the oldest of us gets engaged. I miss the gossip fodder that keeps my mother and me entertained for weeks. And I realized I miss the easy security that comes from being with people who I have known for so long. Even if I am not the closet to them, it’s impossible to feel embarrassed or socially awkward with them, like family.
Now that most of us are graduating from college or starting work, we always joke. Who will be the first of us to host our own Chinese Christmas, without our parents? And I know that, even if we do grow apart, even if we’re no longer forced by our parents: we’ll always have Chinese Christmas.