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community talk:
Holiday Lifelines

For most people, Christmas is the happiest time of the year. As children we await Santa’s arrival with fevered anticipation, and as adults it’s a magical opportunity to indulge in all things naughty and nice because, hey, ‘tis the season! But for some, the holiday looms on the horizon like a dark cloud. Many expats find themselves far from family and friends, making Christmas hardly the season to be jolly. Rarely is the distance between loved ones more apparent, and the social stigma of being labelled a ‘Scrooge’ prevents many people from sharing their feelings with others.

As Executive Director of Lifeline Shanghai, a non-profit, confidential information and support helpline, Lystia Putranto knows how hard Christmas can be for many expats abroad. “Though the holiday season is a festive and happy time for many people, some find it to be a turbulent and emotional time,” she says. “Christmas may bring back many unfortunate memories for a person. Some people also feel isolated – particularly those who don’t have family members or loved ones around.”

Putranto believes that both young and old can experience feelings of isolation and sadness during the Christmas period. “Lone senior citizens who do not have offspring can feel very lonely during the holidays as can young, single, expatriates who – for one reason or another – can’t go home for the holidays to visit their families,” she explains.

Loneliness and isolation aren’t the only aspects of the season that can exacerbate depression. “The holiday season can put a lot of pressure on people as it’s a time of gift giving that can be very costly,” explains Putranto. “People may feel stressed because they do not have enough financial means to accommodate gift giving for their families or loved ones.”

And despite their best efforts, many expats have to remain in Shanghai over Christmas due to work constraints. “Some expats working in Shanghai feel that it is essential for them to go home for the holidays, which sometimes they can not do because of work,” she says. The fact that Christmas is not recognised as a national holiday in China can also magnify any existing feelings of isolation or sadness.

Although the holidays are a challenging time for many expats, a number of resources are available to help ease the pressures of the festive season and make Christmas a more enjoyable experience. Lifeline Shanghai has served the city’s international community as a free emotional support and information resource since it was established in 2004. Open 365 days a year, they continue to provide this support over the Christmas period. “People who feel they’re being left behind or are lonely during the holidays can call and talk to our volunteers,” says Putranto, who believes that a friendly listening ear can help enormously. “It’s often reassuring to share thoughts and feelings with another human being. It’s quite comforting to know that you’re not alone.”

As well as calling the helpline, Putranto has a number of suggestions to help people help themselves – and others – cope effectively with the pressures of the festive season. “It’s very helpful to find friends who are also staying in Shanghai for the holidays,” she says. “Though you’re not necessarily with family, being surrounded by others in the same situation can bring a lot of comfort.” Hosting your own holiday party for expat friends is another sure-fire way of lessening feelings of isolation. Finally volunteer work is a worthwhile use of time and energy over the Christmas period, not to mention a great way to meet new people. A number of community groups host volunteering and philanthropic events throughout the season.

Lifeline Shanghai. Tel: 6279 8990. Web:


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