For the second time in my life, I celebrated Christmas abroad.

The weeks connecting December 2012 and January 2013 my best friend and I clumsily and drunkenly traversed through England and France. We shared beds, couches, dorm room floors of college friends, but we didn’t care! We were 20, resilient, and extremely broke.

On Christmas Day, Hayato and I made spaghetti in Laura’s one-person dorm room in Montpelier, France. Three 20-year-olds crammed into a tiny studio dorm room cooking dinner was so messy, even before Hurricane Hayato spilled an entire plate of spaghetti onto the floor. This was also the night where we experienced a Christmas Miracle: a package of guacamole mix whose flavor competed with fresh guacamole.

Those first three weeks outside of the United States, I experienced a multitude of emotions: anxiety, sleepiness, grumpiness, excitement, confusion, fear, exhaustion, sneeziness, and relief. Remorse for skipping Christmas never joined the lineup.

Perhaps my age, sobriety, and distance from home explains why I missed Christmas with my family so much this year.

While on the train to Christmas lunch at an Italian Pizza Restaurant, I felt my chest dampen with the realization that I won’t have a “normal” Christmas filled with my friends and family, dancing, singing, decorating, and baking. Instead, I would only have this single lunch, where most of the people I invited couldn’t attend. Walking to the restaurant with Peter and Scott, I couldn’t shake the sadness.

My mood shifted as soon as I sat down and the three of us shared pizza topped with Brie, diced potatoes, Italian sausage, and a Caprese salad. Between the jokes, laughter, and stories a sparkle of the Christmas spirit revived in my heart. Nothing compared to home, but special and sweet in its own way.

My school does not observe Christmas, so all of the foreign teachers are expected to report to work. Come Sunday the 23rd, I planned to go to school, but a persistent voice kept running through my mind saying, “Bitch, don’t go to work. Do not go to work!” I decided to listen to her, and on Monday I asked for Christmas off. Best decision of 2018.

After work on Christmas Eve, I went to my favorite Mexican restaurant to surprise Peter with a Christmas Eve meal: a carne asada burrito, and a Christmas special complete with a tamale, Mexican rice, mole with shrimp, and macaroni with ham. We bought hot chocolate, Bailey’s, downloaded “The Grinch”, and played Super Smash Bros with Scott until 2 AM.

For 30 minutes, I spoke to my parents who told relentless sex-jokes, and debuted their new Christmas song, “Spank me Daddy.” SMDH, some things never change. When my mom handed the phone to Meme I watched her bounce with giddiness on the pixelated screen. Her unrestrained excitement reminded me that she is THE #1 human in my life.

On Christmas morning, we awoke to a Christmas miracle: a leaked episode of Ru Paul’s All Stars on YouTube in *amazing* quality. We watched it while cleaning, painting, drinking more hot chocolate and coffee, and waiting for Scott to finish talking to his parents so we can eat lunch.

Following our silly morning of dancing, singing, and watching “The Grinch, ” the three of us biked to the mall to eat at Kura Sushi where we feasted upon 40 plates of sushi. My god, I could barely walk out of the restaurant I was so damn full.

We walked through the mall to digest our meal, and Peter and I were sucked into Color Smith, a handmade Taiwanese back pack store. Since my backpack broke the day before, I needed a new one ASAP. We had no intention of purchasing matching book bags, but that’s just what we did! Same style, different colors. Mine is yellow, and Pete’s is brown.

We topped off the day listening to hip hop Christmas and playing Smash Bros until a nap forced my eyelids shut.

Peter and I did our best to make it *feel* like Christmas, and I think we succeeded. It’s not the same as reading a book in my parent’s living room seated between the Christmas tree and the fire place. But sitting next to Pete on my futon watching Charlie Brown’s Christmas while eating a Subway sandwich was still pretty damn fun. A little strange, a little different, but still full of love.

I’m forever grateful that I had special people with me to create our own version of Christmas.