Not Home for the Holidays

You won’t be home for Christmas. There won’t be snow or mistletoe, and maybe no presents under the non-existent tree. Is it time for to a pity party? No! And, if you’re tempted to throw one (or you’re right in the middle of one) I’d say it’s time for an intentional rearranging of thoughts. To encourage you to think outside the box this year and find a way to intentionally mark the day and celebrate our Savor’s birth, I’d like to share about three different Christmases from my time overseas that happened in different cities with completely different people over the course of several years. Different…but all very special to me.

My first Christmas in China: I have this vivid memory of myself dressed in pajama pants and rain boots, dashing down six flights of dirty concrete stairs shrieking with the kind of glee usually reserved for children on Christmas morning.  My mom sent us a care package full of complete randomness, including parachute men I remembered from my childhood. The memories of how and why it all ended up happening elude me, but I’m sure that at some point on Christmas Day as we celebrated with our teammates, we had the best time taking turns tossing those “army guys” out the window of our teammate’s 7thfloor apartment.

Christmas in Thailand: That year we woke up in a cute (but tiny!) hotel room in Ao Nang, Krabi, Thailand and feasted on continental breakfast, took photos by the bamboo “Christmas tree” in the lobby and marveled that it was Christmas Eve! My husband and I suited up the kids in their beachwear, grabbed the life jackets and sunscreen, and caught the shuttle to the beach where we loaded up in a picturesque wooden longtail boat, ending up at one of the most gorgeous island beaches I’ve ever laid eyes on. We’d end the day strolling casually back to the hotel, stopping at Starbucks and picking up Subway sandwiches (which sounds icky now, but in that moment, it was a real treat for the kids because they weren’t feeling the love for curry!)

Christmas with a newborn: We weren’t sure which way was up because we’d been staying up nights since the baby was born, but we somehow pulled off a celebration! The presents were bought and wrapped and placed under the tree we so proudly purchased at the market for less than $5 US Dollars. Apart from the late-night feedings, we also enjoyed late-night games of Settlers of Catan in our teammates’ apartment, pausing every now and then to press our ears to the concrete wall to listen for wails of the toddler we presumed to be sleeping. Morning came, and we invited teammates who were far from grandchildren to our house to watch the kids open presents. Food and fun marked the day.

It sounds so bad to say that while I missed my family on Christmas Day, at the same time, I didn’t miss them! We were determined to mark the best day of the year with fun and celebration no matter where we were or who we were with. As I look back on the amazing memories we made, I’m so glad we didn’t spend the day Skyping to “feel there” because we couldn’t be there (no offense to anyone who does that…memories can be made on Skype as well!)

Living behind the Great Firewall of China with family living in rural areas in America that had extremely slow internet back then (thankfully that’s not the case now!) made Skyping pretty much impossible. I won’t lie, I did throw a few hissy fits over the years when I heard teammates talking about how their parents would read bedtime stories to their kids over Skype or how they Skyped in to watch the family open presents, but here’s the thing: you can make amazing Christmas memories right where you are. You don’t have to spend the day wishing you were elsewhere doing other things.

With a little planning and intentionality, you can make memories you’ll treasure. Also, if you’re sitting there thinking you’d have your Christmas dreams come true if only you could spend it with so and so in your home country, I’m here to remind you that you can live in your home country and still spend Christmas apart from extended family.

I’m back in Texas now, but I have to work Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas which makes traveling to be at my grandparents’ house for Christmas out of the question. When I saw how the calendar fell this year (with Christmas on a Tuesday) I was tempted to get bitter. Here I am, just four hours away, and I still can’t make it to the celebration I’ve missed because I was in China for all those years. However, then I call to mind the special times we’ve accumulated over those years, and I’m reminding myself that I can have a great Christmas no matter where I am and who I’m with!

Christmas overseas can be hard, especially if you’ve always spent the special day in a certain way and with certain people. However, I’d like to challenge you to open up your heart and mind to a new kind of Christmas this year. Instead of wishing you were somewhere else with someone else, embrace the situation at hand and focus on the true reason for the season.

Share with us in the comments about your plans for Christmas this year, or about one of your “treasured up” memories from a Christmas spent away from your family.

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash


  1. Kathryn Coons December 23, 2018

    I host the iconic Christmas- we pastor an adorable brick church in a village in vermont and we have more Christmas cookies coming our way than I’ve ever seen, 3 services the next 2 days, adorable pagents and candlelight services, skiing, presents, cozy cozy cozy. You know what I miss? Buiding houses with habitat for humanity in yunnan Christmas day, other Christmases in thailand, vietnam, and China where Jesus was all we held in to. Right now we have so many conversations with our kids about why we don’t do elf on the shelf and why we celebrate st. Nicholas and not Santa…. I find though we are in the hub of Christmas now, I’m more overwhelmed with expectations and longing for those days of celebrating with other believers in places so foreign to Christmas culture. My husband and I thought it would be a good idea to head out for a Christmas service trip again next year. I guess we are always longing for what we don’t have.

  2. Michele December 24, 2018

    My favorite two Christmases have been fairly recent: In 2015 Nepal was still recovering from a major earthquake and then was under an unofficial embargo from India that kept us without fuel for vehicles or cooking, electricity off 18 hours or more per day. I had cooking gas, so I invited some Somali refugee friends who love to cook to take over my tiny kitchen. We invited anyone who didn’t have somewhere else to go… Which included friends from Myanmar, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and feasted!

    My second favorite was the next year when I had a visa run that turned into the most restful vacation I’ve ever had in an airbnb on a quiet Thailand beach, letting the waves do their healing work.

    Skype is kind of a miracle to those of us who had to budget for a ten minute phone call on Christmas for many years. I do enjoy watching my little nieces open gifts, but I agree if you do it in place of having your own celebration where you are, it might not be the healthiest way to spend your holiday!

  3. Kathy December 24, 2018

    I have fond memories of a Christmas Eve bonfire – or firebon, as our kids for some reason called it – at an orphanage in Uganda, where we built the most pathetic looking Christmas tree from tied-together branches, made lots of popcorn, and sang and danced and testified to God’s goodness to us till our feet were hurting and the littlest ones started falling asleep. The next morning we had a stocking for each of our 24 kids, plus the two little ones being adopted by an American gal whom I invited to join us when I found her stuck alone in a guest house in the city. We all walked to the village church together, then came home to a Christmas feast of roast goat and all the Ugandan trimmings. I especially loved our bonfire tradition, which we started one Easter and continued each Easter and Christmas Eve, because it gave us a special extended time to stop and focus on God and His goodness to us.

  4. Laura December 24, 2018

    My husband and I both come from big families, so Christmas has always involved lots of people. We knew holidays with just us and our two kids would feel lonely. Last year (our first Christmas on the field), we invited a few friends over for a small Christmas Eve party after church. We both agreed that it finally felt like Christmas that night. This year we live in a bigger house so we invited more people and we ended up with a house overflowing with people and food. The highlight of the night was singing Christmas carols outside on our veranda in the cool night air. It wasn’t the Christmas Eve celebration I’m used to, but it might’ve been even better. I do miss my family, but my heart is full tonight.

  5. Monica F December 24, 2018

    Top 3 Christmases overseas: 1) Scuba-diving on Christmas Day morning off the Kenyan Coast, and then celebrating with ex-pats and locals at a small church down the road, 2) Thailand- waiting for the birth of our baby girl, and again celebrating Christmas Day with a host of local and expat believers at an Int’l fellowship, 3) Our home in rural SW China- where most of our Christmas mornings were spent over a ten year span….laughing at our Charlie Brown tree, sitting around our heater in sleeping bags because it was so cold, and opening gifts that were sent months in advance from family and friends. But the best part was having lots of friends over, reading the Christmas story in three different languages, eating amazing food and ending the evening in songs and prayer. That’s the part I miss the most.

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