My friend holds out the cup of hot chocolate she bought from the school cafe, eyes wide underneath the wool beanie she's wearing. I nod, and she holds it out to me, letting me take a sip of the hot chocolatey goodness. It slips down my throat smoothly, leaving behind a bitter sweet twang.
We're pressed against each other, huddled up in the midst of Hong Kong winter, sitting at the tables of the school's outdoor seating area. Somewhere down below, on the communal piano, someone tinkers out a simple rendition of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, which ends with a crash of keys and boisterous laughter. My friends are all flushed bright red from the cold, looking sunburnt in the wrong season. One picks up her phone, asking which Christmas song we want her to play.
And it's moments like this, when we're all cuddling for warmth and laughing at nothing, that remind me why December is the best time of the year. Coldness seeps down into our bones, and we get sick from colds or the flu, but we stay, huddling underneath blankets that we brought as a joke but actually need, and sipping hot chocolate that's kind of garbage but we like it anyways.
But education calls, and we begrudgingly leave our beloved table, slinging on our backpacks and shuffling our way to our next and last lesson of the day. We sit through classes, each one of us trying to keep focused with varying degrees of success. When the clock reaches 3:12pm, we're packing our bags and shooting out of seats to the weekend.
Except for me. I pack my bags, and shuffle out to meet another friend by the entrance. We're both performing at our school's Christmas concert later that evening and so we're trying to kill time. He mocks me for my clearly very fashionable ensemble, which now consists of an extra beanie over one I'm already wearing as the cherry on top of my absurdity of an outfit. He's dressed in only a black shirt -our concert shirt- and trousers, laughing at me as I pout at his mockery. I'm a city kid through and through, and while he's been in Hong Kong for a while, his American countryside roots allow him to live through a twelve degrees winter with only a long-sleeved shirt and pants.
And we walk, to the same hangout spot we always go to because we're too lazy to go anywhere else. It's by a mall, and the outdoor park is decorated with Christmas lights wound round the branches on trees, turned on so bright even the grey sky of the city looks a little happier. Fake snowmen grin their drawn-on smiles at us as we get ice cream even though it's too cold for that. We sit outside, daring the other to bite it and then laughing when they scrunch up their face because their teeth are too sensitive. For a moment, I realise if you exhale slowly enough, a cloud of air puffs out of your mouth, and this (of course) ignites childish delight in the both of us as we pretend we're smoking. I think back now and wonder, what did passerbys think of us? Of the two crazy teenagers who were just breathing out air?
We spend a few hours at the park, before walking back to school and getting ready for the concert. I shrug out of my coats to reveal the concert shirt I'm wearing underneath, and we play with the rest of the school orchestra. It's warm in the auditorium, with beaming faces from the audience looking out at the high school orchestra in front of them. Christmas is everywhere here: embodied in the Santa hats a few of my ensemble members, in the LED-lit snowflakes hanging behind us, the Christmas tree that sits in the corner with fake presents beneath it. And I can't explain it, but as I listen to the choir sing a carol, as I lean back in my chair, as I start to play another piece, as I see the audience's smiles grow wider, as I get a cup of hot chocolate from the stall outside the auditorium when it's all finished, I know.