In Russia, Christmas is on January 7th, due to the Orthodox calendar. However, it's mostly a church thing. The real celebration is New Year. It has the tree, the presents, even a local version of Santa Claus, but it's on a different date. I think it's a Soviet holdover. Whatever the reason, it means that December 25th is completely ordinary to most Russians. Businesses are open, kids are in school, and everything is status quo.
For someone coming from the North American holiday frenzy, it's downright disorienting. To be cut off from family and friends on top of it all makes it that much worse. I've had a few nostalgic moments today, no doubt about that - and a wonderful Skype conversation with my parents, though it was hard to miss out on Christmas morning with them.
At the same time, a holiday season is a holiday season, no matter where you are. The kids have been keyed-up and babbling about their vacation plans for weeks. Every building has a string of lights thrown on it. New Year trees are being sold on the street corners. We've had pub nights, season-themed lessons, and a staff outing to The Wizard of Oz on ice. So it's a weird combination of Christmas and no Christmas.
Today, however, was perfectly ordinary. In some respects, this was a good thing - working kept my mind off what I was missing. I taught my classes (well, if you call "showing them The Grinch and A Mickey Mouse Christmas Carol" teaching) and put on a brave face. Some of the older students were thoughtful enough to wish me a Merry Christmas - one even brought me a gift! - and one of my classes had several students from South America, so we shared a little OMG IT'S CHRISTMAS moment.
At several points during the day, I stopped and thought to myself, "Today is Christmas Day," like that kid in A Christmas Carol. The world was still going on around me. People rushed around living their daily lives. I missed the complete standstill that happens every year - the moments to reflect and spend time with family and celebrate together. But Russians have their own time for that, and I knew that coming in. With the wonders of the Internet, I even got to communicate with my family. Today, I saw so much goodness in so many people, from Russia and Canada and all over the world. There were so many people willing to make the day just a bit better. That is worth so much more than a holiday - even if I still miss home.
A very merry Christmas to all of you reading this, and may you never be alone.