An Immigrant’s Christmas

When I was young and living in Hong Kong, Christmas was all about sending Christmas cards to relatives and my parents’ friends around the world, looking at extravagant light displays on skyscrapers, giant Christmas trees in shopping malls and the most important of all: winter vacation. Other than that my family never really celebrated Christmas in Hong Kong. To be honest, I don’t even remember if I ever got an actual “Christmas present” while living there. We didn’t eat any special food to celebrate the holiday season. I suppose the most Christmas-y thing I did back then was that I had to sing Christmas hymns at school because I went to a Christian school.

When my family moved to Canada, my brother was in high school and I was still in elementary school, so I think my parents, namely my mom, tried hard to give us a more “Canadian” kind of Christmas. I think many immigrant families living in western countries had the same experience where things aren’t really quite right because of the lack of knowledge about the holiday in general. Remember, this was before the age of the Internet, so information wasn’t an easy click away on Google or YouTube.

One year, I believe it was the Christmas morning of ’96 or ’97, my dad had the bright idea to buy the board game “Monopoly” and tied it to a string. One end was tied to my doorknob and one end was tied to my brother’s doorknob. The idea was that he’d wake up both of us at the same time, and the fastest to open the door would get the present. Number one, that’s not how Christmas presents work. Number two, we’ve never had any reason to wake up early on Christmas morning, and so neither one of us opened the door as excitedly as he expected us to. Since then, he’s vowed to never give us Christmas presents ever again because we’re “no fun”. He has kept his word.

Then there’s my mom. After having turkey when we tried to celebrate a Canadian Thanksgiving, my mom decided she didn’t care for it and she’d bake a whole chicken instead. My entire family loves chicken so we didn’t really care that she decided to replace the turkey. It also saved the four of us from having to eat turkey for five meals a day for a week as leftovers, so that has gone on to become my family’s Christmas tradition until this day.

One year when I was in high school, my friends and I got together and rented the classic horror movie “The Exorcist” during Christmas, and since then, watching horror movies on Christmas has become my personal tradition while living in Japan if I have nothing better to do. There’s something about how ridiculous it is to watch a horror movie on a family holiday that makes me smile. I recommend watching older horror films because of how outdated the special effects and make-up are. It makes it less scary, and might even make you crack a smile.

After moving to Japan, I started celebrating Christmas the Japanese way with KFC. I love fried chicken and I need all the excuses I can get to feel less guilty about ordering a whole set of fried chicken. Chicken also reminds me of how my mom would make chicken for the holiday, so I remember my family, and it feels like home.


hymn (n) – a religious song; a song that praises God
bright idea (phr.) – a clever thought or plan, though usually used sarcastically
vow (v) – to make a serious promise to do something or to behave in a certain way
keep one’s word (idiom) – to do what one has promised
don’t care for (phr.) – to not like something or someone
guilty (adj.) – feeling bad because you have done, or think you’ve done, something bad or wrong