Step into Christmas: Gratitude drives the festive spirit in Shanghai

Emma Leaning
Christmas this year will necessarily be different, thanks to COVID-19. And Shanghai's international community is doing its best to give in the festive spirit.
Emma Leaning

Christmas is associated with many things — curling ribbons, hanging tinsel and families in paper hats crowding around tables that groan under the weight of turkey. For many in our international community, it’s when we travel home to celebrate the season with loved ones. But in the cold light of COVID-19, Christmas this year will necessarily be different. What festive picture does that paint?

I spent the afternoon at the German Christmas Market on the Bund, asking members of the international community how they’ll spend Christmas this year. What I found brought great comfort. Gratitude drives the festive spirit in Shanghai. While affected individually by the situation, collectively our community is grateful to receive three gifts this Christmas: our sense of safety, the festivities across the city and above all, the friendships holding its international community together.

Step into Christmas: Gratitude drives the festive spirit in Shanghai

I was lucky to make friends in quarantine so I’m going to hop from place to place. One’s cooking a Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and the other is having a pajama party. We’re going to wake up on Christmas morning and watch movies all day. Things are bad back home so I’m feeling grateful to be here. In Michigan I go to the Christmas markets every year, so the Shanghai ones remind me of that.

Tia, USA

The night before Christmas we’re sleeping at a friend’s house. We’re going to wake up on Christmas Day, drink eggnog and watch Christmas movies. I was kind of hoping to go back to America this year, but it’s alright. My friends here are a second family, so I’m happy to spend Christmas with them.

Maria, USA

We’re feeling at home in Shanghai, we don’t feel like we need to travel. We have a Christmas tree at Kitty’s place, so it’s a mixture of Chinese and Western culture. We plan to visit Disneyland on the 24th or 25th. We’ll enjoy it, it’ll be a different way to spend Christmas.

Sabri, France and Kitty, China

I’m going to The Waldorf with a big group of friends for Christmas dinner and champagne. Normally I travel a lot with work so I’m OK with staying in Shanghai for Christmas. I’m enjoying being here.

Sophie, England

I have kids in America that I can’t see so I’m going to stay at home and ignore that Christmas is happening. But happily so — I’ll eat lots of food that’s probably terrible for me, maybe play some video games or watch movies. I’ll just let the day pass by.

Jeffery, USA

Step into Christmas: Gratitude drives the festive spirit in Shanghai

We’re getting people together to have Christmas dinner, play games and just hang out. We can’t travel home so friends in Shanghai are the closest thing to family. I feel a bit sad, but at the same time I understand. I love Shanghai, so I’m going to make the best of it with my friends.

Maddie, USA

We’re going with a few friends to Chengdu. We found a nice ski resort and we’ll do a bit of sightseeing. It’s OK that we can’t go home, we’re dealing with it like everyone else. Friends are more important than ever this year. We’re lucky in Shanghai. We’re safe and free to enjoy ourselves while family back home are in lockdown. So I kind of feel a bit guilty, you know?

Carols, Spain

When you’re away somewhere that Christmas isn’t part of the culture, these gatherings feel special. It’s like a magnet for everyone who has an affection for Christmas. Everyone’s here for the same reason, we want to connect with Christmas and our homes.

Ethan, Canada

Shanghai has done an amazing job of bringing Christmas to the city. People feel lucky and safe here. I feel kind of guilty too, family back home is in lockdown, it’ll be hard for them. Shanghai is weirdly one of the most Christmassy places you could be right now.

Sam, England

Step into Christmas: Gratitude drives the festive spirit in Shanghai

What the city’s done for the international community at Christmas is special. We’ve needed it, we’re all sad about not seeing our families, but the festive feel helps. Usually, we’re spread out amongst the city but tonight we’re all here.

— Tomas, Germany

I’m not feeling great about not going home, I have a new baby and she hasn’t met her grandparents. But I’m grateful we have friends that we’re close with, Shanghai family is a real thing. For Christmas Eve we’re hosting a few couples, we’ll cook dinner and have a cozy evening. I think Shanghai is more festive this year. It’s different, but we’re here at a Christmas market surrounded by beautiful architecture. It’s cool.

— Eva, USA

I’ve only been here five months, so I don’t miss home enough to feel sad. It just is what it is. And I’ve been lucky to make some good friends like Eva who I’ll be with at Christmas. I’m so thankful for that. Friends really are where it’s at this year.

— Anna, USA

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