Holidays are tough. For everyone. All over the world. I’ve been celebrating the winter holidays abroad for a long time (in 10+ years abroad, I’ve spent three Christmases in the States). Despite that, I’m finding that as this holiday season begins, I’m more homesick than usual. I’m missing friends and family and pumpkin spice lattes. Which is not to say that the life of an expat is not pretty damn sweet. Indeed it is, and I know that the holiday homesickness will pass. And, there are a few things about celebrating holidays abroad that are absolutely amazing.
It’s true that because I work for the US government, I have a lot of help living abroad. I don’t have to ship my stuff myself or find a house or even find a my own damn turkey (true story! Our amazing Community Liaison Office at the Consulate organized a group turkey buy.).
Even with all of that, no one really expects me to get my act together for the holidays. Bringing a cheese and relish plate to Friendsgiving because I can’t be bothered to cook? FUCK YEAH, THERESA’S AMAZING! Keeping the stockings small because I forgot to order Christmas candy ahead of time? FUCK YEAH, WAY TO KEEP YOUR KID’S EXPECTATIONS REASONABLE, GREAT JOB, MOM.
Man. The winter holidays in the US is ALL ABOUT THE STUFF. All about it. From Black Friday sales to pumpkin spice lattes. Ugh. Like, it’s not Christmas until your house is covered in stuff and it’s not Christmas until you’ve waited in line at Target for two hours because your kid’s got a holiday party and you forget to buy treats and it’s not Christmas until you’ve put the whole damn holiday on your credit card.
Here in Jerusalem (and as has been the case since Cotonou when we moved in together), Christmas is about family and friends. Especially in West Jerusalem, where the big winter holiday is Chanukah, there isn’t any sort of pressure to spend, spend, and spend.
Minimizing the kid’s exposure to commercialism
Along with minimizing consumption is minimizing my kids’ exposure to Christmas as a commercial holiday. Christmas is a family and religious holiday. We celebrate the story of a refugee family who needed a place to stay in the Winter (yes, that’s the spin that we give, NEVER MISS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR INDOCTRINATION). While we will get our children four presents each, we stick to a pretty strict policy of minimal gift giving, choosing to spend our money on experiences and time with friends instead.
Celebrating with friends
For my family, celebrating the holidays means celebrating the people who are most important to us. Family is wonderful, and both my spouse and I miss celebrating the holidays with our families. But I LOVE the fact that while we’re abroad, we celebrate them with friends, or rather, the family that we’ve created for ourselves as we move from country to country.
Celebrating with different cultures
Last year, we took the kids walking through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City to admire the Chanukiot during the week before Christmas. We told the story of soldiers returning home after exile, and the miracle of candles that stayed lit for eight days. We enjoy Christmas in Bethlehem, and a street fair in Haifa that celebrates the co-existance of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in Haifa. In Freetown, we hit the beach with friends, and in Cotonou, we invited our Muslim neighbors to join us for the holiday.
This isn’t to #humblebrag about the diversity of our friends, but to point out that it’s a lot easier to integrate other cultures into our holiday celebrations when we’re not living in the U.S. and juggling both cultural pressure and family expectations to do holidays in a certain way.
And that’s five great reasons to love celebrating holidays abroad! What do you love most about the winter holidays?