Cultivated Memories from Around the Globe

Cultivated Memories from Around the Globe

“She must love her children very much. She spoils them!” said the cashier to Jeremy about me as we were paying for a few Christmas items in South Africa.

Spread across the conveyer belt were little Christmas treats, some Santa marshmallows, chocolate advent calendars, reindeer craft ornaments and a few other small, Christmas things for my girls.

I looked at Jeremy and then smiling, said to the cashier, “Well, yes, I do love my girls but we live in West Africa. I can’t get these things there so we’re shopping early for Christmas. I’ll save it all for the holidays!”

The cashier slowly picked up each item, looked at it and then ran it over her scanner before putting it carefully in a bag next to her. I had a feeling that the Christmas display behind me was fairly new and I might be the only customer shopping for Christmas items at the beginning of October.

Yet, that little bag of Christmas items was special to me and I knew it would be special to our girls. Even though they are teenagers, we still enjoy these pieces of home. The Christmas season has always been full of crafts, small treats, advent calendars, cookie decorating and movie watching. The girls were just home from boarding school for the weekend so we could decorate the tree and start our holidays overseas.

As I pondered this post, I found it interesting that a lot of these pieces of home aren’t really from home.

In fact, I only brought a few select Christmas things with us when we moved overseas. Slowly, over the years, I’ve replaced, remade and recreated the things we remember from home. The items that we have now carry old memories of past Christmas crafts or traditions with the new memories being made on a new continent.

For example, as I sit here typing away, I can see our Rummikub game on the shelf under our TV. That game has always been a part of our holidays at home even from when I was a little girl. I remember hours of playing Rummikub with my grandparents, my dad, my sisters and other family members or friends around the holidays.

The game itself is something we found here at a store full of random things. But it feels like a piece of home because of the memories it represents. We’ve continued playing Rummikub with our girls, building new memories from old memories that span across an ocean.

Next, at the top of the stairs in our house here in West Africa we have a small landing between the bedrooms. On that landing, we’ve placed a small, Charlie Brown-type tree. It’s not the prettiest tree but it represents a piece of home from our year in France for language school. We didn’t bring a tree with us from the States so we purchased a small one at IKEA to have in our apartment. Then, we brought that little tree with us to Africa and it has become a new piece of our home at Christmastime.

As you know, it’s the Christmas trees and the Rummikub games and the other things around our homes that generally get passed from family to family as people come and go from our host countries. I can look around each room of our house, see so many shared things and remember the families they represent. I’m sure you can as well.

Our big Christmas tree in the living room is just such a tree. Another family that spent many years here was leaving the year we arrived. I purchased her tree, ornaments, Christmas decorations and other random things that she’d collected over the years.

Every year, when we put up this tree, I think of her and the short time we knew them. I remember her home and feel thankful to have her tree in our home.

It’s a precious bundle of memories that we all have, meshed together in beautiful ways that seem to culminate during the holidays. The more years we spend overseas, the more these memories and pieces of home blend together.

As we decorated our tree just a few weeks ago, I found a set of ornaments that my oldest made at school during our first term overseas. I found an ornament from my mom’s tree back in Michigan. I found the new snowman family ornament that proudly states our family name on it from a Christmas store stateside. A small elephant from a friend in India, a little bird from South Africa, an Eiffel Tower from France… memories and pieces of home that span one country to another, one time to the next.

I’ve learned that it is this unique blending of memories that warms my heart and feels like home each holiday season.

From the brand new packages that arrive to the dusty, dry-rotting tree that we pulled out of bins covered in gecko droppings, cherishing these pieces of home is a big part of navigating this time of the year.

I’m learning to appreciate the new and the old, cultivate memories in creative ways, and honor the pieces of home from around the globe. I’m thankful for each piece that says home, whichever home that might be.

They all hold precious memories and the opportunity for new ones this year.

How have you seen this blending of new and old pieces of home in your years overseas?

How can you recreate or cultivate pieces of home for the holidays?

Feel free to share something specific with us in the comments! A story, a picture, a description of your new or old pieces of home.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels


  1. Melissa Hedding November 24, 2019

    Thank you for sharing this! I have always struggled with deep sadness over the tradition of family togetherness we miss by being so far from loved ones. This is a good reminder to be treasure our own unique mix of traditions. Maybe it will help me to partake more fully in the joyfulness of my family that IS here this year!

    1. Jenilee Goodwin November 25, 2019

      I hope this year is a special time of remembering to treasure your blend of traditions!

  2. Monica F November 25, 2019

    Love Rummikub! That game is a tradition in my family too:)

  3. Abigail December 10, 2019

    Thank you for sharing this. All the feels as this month is spent traveling without even a chance to put up the tree inherited from a dear Brazilian sister in Asia. Then to Australia where my husband is from for a one-month house sit before a whole year spent there. Bringing at least a small, hand-made cloth star ornament from a dear friend from Mongolia. Contemplating the true spirit of Christmas.

  4. Kathy Vaughan July 9, 2021

    Mpola, mpola. Slowly by slowly. Here in Uganda, I have learned that not everything has to be done today, that people don’t rush into things, and that it’s OK to not accomplish everything you intended to do today. My urgency to get something done can cause real angst for someone accustomed to taking life at a more leisurely pace. And when I accept that slower pace, not only is my spirit more settled and at peace, but the time I have with people is richer, fuller, and more connected. I have come to see mpola, mpola as a gift from God.

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