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A New Christmas

Trigger Warning: loss of a family member

reindeer ornament

“I used to dress nice, in a seasonal dress (usually red), and run out the front door to greet my aunts and uncles as the sound of tires on the gravel driveway signaled their arrival.”

My first thought walking into the train station on November 1st was, “It’s too early, Japan!” 

There was a giant tree in the lobby of the shopping center, lights strung along the walking bridge I take to work, and a healthy amount of Christmas decorations in the storefronts. I stopped into a popular U.S. coffee shop: Christmas music. As I sat, sipping my Japanese tea and listening to Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby,” I started to think about how this year will be very different from past Christmases.


Ever since I can remember, I have spent Christmas with my mom’s family in California. Not exactly the whitest of Christmases, but still full of holiday cheer. While she was one of the youngest of five, I’m an only child. With only two cousins who visited regularly during the holiday, I was the star of the show. I used to dress nice, in a seasonal dress (usually red), and run out the front door to greet my aunts and uncles as the sound of tires on the gravel driveway signaled their arrival. It was always magical for me as a kid.

As I got older, I was thrilled to participate in White Elephant (a random gift exchange)—something I was previously barred from due in part to the occasional inappropriate nature of the gifts—and I started toning down my wardrobe. I started to feel like a part of the show, rather than the star of it. But just as suddenly, the show seemed to end altogether.

Last year, we lost my eldest cousin in a car accident around Thanksgiving. It was a huge shock, one that might take a lifetime to process. He was smart and kind and always looking to help people. I remember being terrified of him as a kid—the age difference between us was significant and he always had broad shoulders and a low brow—but I was just starting to relax around him again. We didn’t have a strong relationship, but he was just as much a part of what I love about Christmas like our holiday bread, Nana’s flashy tree, or my red dresses.

My cousin bought me a card every year, and usually put a twenty in it. He always smiled and laughed and made jokes. We didn’t talk much the rest of the year, so that’s my memory of him. I didn’t expect to miss him as much as I do.

It makes this first Christmas abroad even more painful.

christmas tree in mall


This year, I’m in Japan—a country where Christmas is cute, commercial. A couples’ holiday rather than a holiday for family. All those trappings of my childhood Christmases are gone. No oven to make Christmas bread, no running out the door to greet my relatives as I hear their cars pull up, no Christmas tree with potentially seizure-inducing flashing lights. No smiling, broad-shouldered cousin to give me a bone-crushing hug.

But I’m looking forward to finding my own Christmas. I can sing carols and decorate my apartment. I can call my family on Christmas Eve. I can spend Christmas Day with my boyfriend. Even though so many parts of the holiday have changed, I still have my Christmas spirit.

tiny tree

Sara Rose

A few words about me

In the words of Alexandra Rowland, I’ve “[sunk] my homeland beneath the waves,” and I’m on a new journey. Every day I’m striving to be optimistic, curious, and kind. Sometimes it’s easier said than done.