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.