Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Young Family's Search for a Meaningful Holiday Overseas

Who let these crazies out of the house like that?

It's that season again.

No, not the rainy season or the hot season or the cold (OK, mildly cool) season here in Thailand...the holiday season.

For us, after the rains stop drip dropping (mostly), there come cooler days and a vague resemblance of Fall.  I wake up in the morning, chilly, donning fuzzy socks and dreaming of hot coffee to warm me up.  My husband, from Illinois, would disagree with the degree that I deem this "chilly" morning/evening weather, but then he used to walk out in the snow with a t-shirt.  Hard core, I get it.  I am not.

But with the weather changing, and despite the fact that snow is something that only happens here along with pigs flying, our minds shift to the holidays; American holidays.

Suddenly, without skipping a beat, the annual Thanksgiving Day banquet is planned. My culinary contribution is usually not much, as my close friends here have that area covered much better than myself.  And, then, like in the States, the day right after Christmas brings thoughts of ornaments and cookies and carols and Elf.  You can't have Christmas lately without Elf, right?

Last year's Thanksgiving celebration at the S-clan's house

But, without being surrounded by the American culture and influence of the holidays, our little family is left to decide for itself about how to celebrate this season.  And, lemme tell ya, I am happy to be left out of Black Friday, fruitcake and the Chipmunks singing "O Holy Night" on repeat.

On the other hand, so much of what we feel during this season is all that we see and hear around us (in the States).  Neighborhoods are lit up, carols fill the air as we shop for milk, and Santa is suddenly everywhere we see in ads and decorations.

But, what do you do when we live here? In Asia. In a Buddhist nation.

With every year that passes, we realize that the holiday culture we will be experiencing is the one we create ourselves. Instead of letting extended family and TV commercials and Target toy ads determine what enjoy in this season, WE are the determining factor.

Here is what we have been doing over the past few years to make our overseas Christmas feel just right for US:

:: Food, lots and lots of glorious food.  When the temperature drops (or, at least when November hits)...out comes the pumpkins, cinnamon sticks, sugar cookies and comfort food. Over the past four years, our best experience yet in this area has been in the current city we live in.  For a price, you can get just about any ingredient to make what you need (mostly, but you still have to make from scratch).  One Christmas morning, we had breakfast tacos with handmade flour tortillas...just because when you live overseas, any special food makes it a special day...even if you don't necessarily equate breakfast tacos with Christmas!

:: Music.  Before the days of iTunes radio (we can't really get Pandora here)...this came in the form of our own albums, the borrowing of others, and YouTube Christmas play lists.  Just hearing the classics throughout our home makes us a little nostalgic, AND realize that most of the songs are so foreign to our kids.

This year, Mrs. Tawni came over to help us overload the tree with ornaments and Mr. Mike came to oversee the eating of cookies.  He had to make sure they were fit for eating, I guess.

Huy called dibs to put on the star.  He was beyond thrilled!

:: Decor, of course.  Now, I am not the craftiest or best home decorator (just ask my family)...but the only "seasonal" decor I have is at least Christmas stuff.  A few days ago, we pulled out the table-top Christmas tree, the box of ornaments we have been collecting since we married almost a decade ago, our two nativity scenes that some dear friends sent from the States, and some lights (that blink incessantly so as to make me want to lose my mind!).  For the last few years, some friends have come over to deck the tree and have a hot drink together.  Loads of fun!

:: Focus on giving, not getting.  Though we do buy a few things for our children and for each other to open on Dec. 25th, we don't have wish lists, or pretend to be Santa's middle-men.  It is so exciting to get new things given to you in this season (hey, I LOVE gifts! we aren't pretending to be non-materialistic!)...but we have tried to steer our minds towards what we can give instead.  I used to be plagued by buying meaningless or pricey junk for others in a veiled attempt to be generous...but instead of that, we try to pray about whom to give to each year and how to do it.  Some years we give World Vision gifts or items to support the eradication of human trafficking and poverty.  We visit a local orphanage on Christmas Day (for a few years now), bring some things along to bless them, and play with the children there.  Perspective can be a great teacher.  

:: Celebrating Advent/Jesse Tree. For the last three years we have been counting down December days by reading various prophetic passages leading up to the birth of Jesus.  All throughout the Bible, there are shadows and hopes of the Messiah's coming.  It has been so wonderful to draw all these stories together for us and for our kids as we prepare to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way.  I used to use Ann Voskamp's Jesse Tree devotional...but this year she is highlighting this study instead of her original one.  Also, YouVersion's Bible app has Advent reading plans to follow.  I am reading She Read's Truth's version and our family is going through the Countdown to Christmas reading plan.  

So, these are just a few ways we expats are trying to make the holidays something special to us.

What are some ways that you make your Thanksgiving/Christmas season meaningful? Expat or not, I would love to hear your traditions and ideas...feel free to comment below.


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