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Expats make merry, Shanghai-style

All over the world on December 24 and 25, travelers, students and the otherwise uprooted get together to have what is colloquially referred to as an "orphan's Christmas."

These events bring together people from all sorts of countries, who may or may not speak the same language. But what they have in common is that they are away from their hometown during Christmas - a time for spending with others.

Right here in Shanghai, many consulates have been hosting Christmas parties for their citizens who may be missing the home comforts of a French, Italian or Australian Christmas.

It can be a tough time of year to be away from home, particularly if you are new to a city or don't speak the local language. And with Christmas meaning something quite different to the Shanghainese, expats are left to find their own way to celebrate the big day.

Canadian NGO worker Alex Dye arrived in Shanghai for an internship just two months ago, so she will be celebrating her first Shanghai Christmas.

Determined not to lose any of the trappings of a traditional Canadian Christmas, Dye, 18, is packing in two Christmas feasts over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with her family of expats from the United States, New Zealand and elsewhere.

With Swedish connections in the group, they will be starting their celebrations with a Swedish themed meal at a friend's apartment - mulled wine included - before a second feast at Dye's apartment on Christmas Day.

"I'll be working on Christmas for the first, and hopefully last, time in my life. But we've got a chicken dinner ordered with all the mashed potato, cranberries and pumpkin pie, just like at home," she says. "We've got to track down some eggnog, though, or we'll have to get creative to try and make it ourselves."

Dye and her flatmate have kitted out their apartment in full Christmas regalia and are counting down the days on Advent calendars.

"I've made a ton of good friends here, and the support system among expats is just wonderful. You can meet so many interesting, amazing people so it stops you from missing home even at Christmas," Dye says.

"The only difference from here and home is that nationally it's not really celebrated. In Canada, no matter your religion everybody celebrates it on some level, so it's certainly something to get used to," she adds.

Primary school teacher Dean Corrigan will be starting his Christmas Day with a Skype call home to family in Manchester, England.

"I'm pretty relaxed about not being there, but you've got to check in with them on the day," he says.

But he too will be off to work later in the day since there's no public holiday for the celebration. It's a change, but Christmas is really just "another day" in Shanghai, Corrigan says.

"But once I finish work I might head out with some of the Chinese teachers for a bit of KTV. A proper Chinese night out," he's quick to point out.

Some aspects of the English Christmas will be sorely missed by the 26-year-old, such as the gifts from family members and the full Christmas spread of turkey with stuffing, potatoes and other Christmas classics.

But with many of the Christmas meal options in Shanghai a bit extravagant in price, Corrigan is not in any rush to replicate what he will be missing out on.

"It's really about the commercialism of it here, and with that comes the price. There's not really any Christian or religious thing to it," he says. "I think I'll be happy with a chicken curry and maybe singing a few Christmas carols at KTV."

Peter Solomon, principal horn at Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, arrived in Shanghai in October with his wife and 11-month-old son.

With performances planned for New Year's, the American is staying in the city to take part in rehearsals, but luckily his family is bringing the Christmas spirit to Shanghai.

Relatives from both sides of his family will be visiting to spend Christmas together, with his brother, mother and aunts making the trip.

"We'll have a bit of a family get-together for the week around Christmas, and try to keep some of the same traditions that we had back home, especially as it's my son's first Christmas," Solomon says.

"We'll have a small tree and have turkey for dinner, open presents and just try to keep a little bit of what we're used to," he says.

Solomon spent the last two years in South Korea, but says the Shanghainese way of celebrating the season is much closer to what he is used to.

"The Korean Christmas is very much a couples holiday. My wife and I went out for a quick drink and everybody was dressed up very nicely in pairs at the bar. It's almost like Valentine's Day," he recalls.

"It felt a lot more foreign to me than this Shanghai Christmas, which is a lot more Western style with the Christmas trees and carols playing," he adds.

Having only been in Shanghai for a short time, Solomon says his family is still adjusting to their new life.

"We're still just really getting used to the Shanghainese ways and have really liked our time in the city so far. We're still newbies though, so we're discovering new things and new experiences every day," he concludes.

Written by Kerry McBride

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