I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, and because it’s a weird time of year about sharing and caring, I wanted to tell you some of my Christmas memories over the years. This might be a weird blogpost, and different to my normal ones – but Christmas makes people do weird things.

Today is Christmas Day and for a lot of people that’s a really super special important time. Christmas is a huge deal in the west, mostly because of paganism and then Christianity. Overtime however it’s come to mean a time to be with family, the ones you love and a time to be thankful for everything of this year. The way I see Christmas, and how I feel about it has changed a lot over the years, and it keeps changing almost every year.

I know some people who are like the characters in ELF. They almost live for this holiday season, and they’ve got the presents wrapped perfectly and under the tree on the 1st of December. Then I know the people who have to work over the holiday period, I’ve been in retail myself, and it’s double time and stressful. There’s the bah-humbugs who flinch at every Christmas jingle that gets played repeatedly on every radio station. Then there are the home-makers, like mothers and wives who work hard on cooking the perfect lunch, the fathers and husbands that desperately try to find that one gift to give. Finally there’s all of us who just want the holidays to go by without a hitch.

When I first came to England, I didn’t understand the concept of Christmas. We didn’t celebrate it in Vietnam back then, and even now it’s not such a big deal in Vietnam. That first Christmas my stepfather tried to teach me about Santa Clause but I didn’t understand I wrote my letter to Santa right before going to sleep on Christmas Eve. I wrote I wanted a barbie and a church bell. I woke up feeling sad because there were no more chocolates in the advent calendar, which to little me was the best idea in the world to know  you were going to get chocolate for 24 days in a row! I had never eaten real chocolate before I came to England you see, and it was to me the most delicious thing ever.

I came downstairs, and my parents were already awake. Because I had stayed up late the night before, scared because some weird man was going to climb down our chimney and eat my cookies and drink my milk, I had secretly planned to wake up in the middle of the night and go down and eat the cookies and drink the milk before the man could steal it himself. My stepdad started a fire, because fireplaces were still common place then, and my mum had my breakfast ready and there was this giant wrapped gift for me next to the tree.

Santa had got me something white. Something big with a black dot. I got really excited thinking it was a Dalmatian because 101 dalmatians had come on TV the day before. The dot turned out to be a nose, and the white thing turned out to be a bear. I was hugely disappointed, because it wasn’t a church bell and I didn’t know what to do with bears. I named him BooBoo and for the next 8 years of my life, he would be my closest friend. For the first 4 years of our friendship he was taller than me. His mouth by the end had turned a weird colour from me constantly feeding him my icecream or baked beans. I once took him in the bath and it took three days for him to dry out.

One of my best christmas was when I was 7 years old. My little sister was only about 1 years old, and we had driven up to the Yorkshire Dales to a tiny village where my grandmother lived. She lived on a beautiful hill which had views overlooking the village. My grandmother made the best roast dinners in the world, and christmas trumped them all. We had a giant goose because dad thought turkey tasted plain. The goose would have two types of stuffing inside it at either ends. There would be roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, leek in white sauce, apple sauce, cranberry sauce, assorted boiled vegetables that we covered in butter, more stuffing, pickled cabbage and galleons of the most delicious gravy ever.

By then I had started to understand the concept of a day when I would be given presents for no real reason, and we would it amazing food. I spent the morning tearing away at wrapping paper with my little sister who loved tearing the paper, but didn’t seem too concerned with their contents, which annoyed me because I had spent half of all my pocket money on buying her gift (which was a baby bottle with little lions and elephants and giraffes on it). After lunch we all watched christmas movies playing, because in Grandma’s village you could only get 4 channels and grandma only at a video tape player and no children’s videos. My little sister was bored of “It’s a wonderful Life” and started to climb towards all the opened boxes and wrapping paper still covering the living room floor.

That year, my little sister and I played so much in the cardboard boxes, I don’t even remember what our other gifts were. She sat in one and I pushed it around the house pretending to be a train or a car. I built a fort with the boxes and the sofa cushions and she was Godzilla bashing them all down. We stacked them so high my mum had to help put the last boxes on top. That was also the first year which is snowed on Christmas for me, and before bed we all watched outside the window as my grandma’s tiny village was covered in white.

I’ve spent Christmases since with my foster family, where we play family board games and card games and we go out for a walk and drink piping hot chocolate when we got home as a reward. I’ve spent Christmas with just my little sister and her dad, the three of us having a quiet dinner which I cooked, but it only had one type of stuffing and not three, because only my sister and I ate meat and there was no reason to buy a goose so we got a duck instead. I’ve spent Christmas with my mother and her new boyfriend, where my mother still cooks enough to feed triple the number of people, and she likes to experiment so I was eating crab with ginger sauce next to my mash potatoes and sausages. I remember a Christmas when I was with my stepdad, too ill to stay awake the entire time but crying when I told him I didn’t want anything for Christmas but to eat dinner with him.

It’s an emotional time for everyone, and it’s stressful for everyone no matter who you are or who your family is or where you are. Every year I make a lot of travel plans so that I can see all my family, who are dotted about England. Last year I was working in retail, and I spent a large part of the holidays alone, it was sad and very lonely but it’s not uncommon and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I still saw my family when I could, I simply celebrated it on a different day.

This year is the first year since both my grandmother and my stepdad has passed away. Although it was tough to travel so much to see everyone, I would travel 10 times that amount if I could spend it with them again. I was scared and I was lonely and I wondered why Christmas is such a hard time. But then I’m with my little sister, she hand knitted me a scarf and I remember that it’s not about what’s happened in the past, it’s not about who you’ve lost and who you’ve got. It’s not really about anything, and yet it’s about everything.

Christmas is anything and everything you want or make it to be. So I want to say Thank You to you all, because you’ve made my Christmas a better one. This year, I don’t have my stepdad or my grandma, but I do have new friends from all over the world, and I’m thinking about you guys, hoping you are having a wonderful Christmas. Without you guys this year would be that little bit more lonely, but instead I’ll have this little smile playing as I think of all the amazing things you guys have done for me, simply by being there.