It was our first Christmas overseas. Not our first Christmas in ministry, but our first that far away.
Our coworkers had returned to the US for the holidays, so we were alone. Not actually alone; there were many people around, but none who observed Christmas and definitely none who celebrated with traditions similar to our own.
It was scorching hot. Not the hottest (that was January), but super-hot. I don’t think the temperature dipped below 85 degrees all month.
Postage to our location was really expensive, so while we did receive packages from home, they were small. And a Christmas tree? Ha! Palm trees aplenty, but no conifers of any sort grew there.
You can feel sorry for me later.
Not really. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me at all! I hope you see from my description that Christmas was different and maybe even difficult, but it wasn’t bad. It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?
Of course, we did several things to reach out to our community with the love of Jesus, but I want to look inside our home right now. We observed some of our usual traditions, like making cookies and reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in the week leading up to Christmas Day. We played Christmas music—sacred and secular—every day. We made piles of paper snowflakes and hung them in all the windows. The paper snowflakes became a new tradition, and we did it every year we lived there! Because the packages were small, our kids were really pleased with a new sippy cup or DVD. On Christmas day, we ran the a/c all day so it would be cool enough in the house to drink hot chocolate.
Please let me share a few things I grew to appreciate during that and subsequent sweaty Christmases:
Know what you can handle and when you need a break.
Christmas is an emotion-packed holiday for almost everyone. I’m not the type to get homesick, but I had to be extra-aware of my emotions during these days. I learned to give myself permission to step away, to take some extra time for myself or my family, and to reminisce.
Celebrate the ‘perks.’
Celebrate the ‘perks.’
We enjoyed going to the beach or pool, grilling out instead of cooking a ham (which wasn’t available anyway), and the lack of runny noses. We found the things that made our present location enjoyable and focused on those.
Be thankful for the quiet.
By celebrating differently, we missed the hectic pace and the commercialism of the holidays in America. We were thankful for that, and we spent the extra time re-welcoming our Savior.
I learned so much that first Christmas in the tropics. Most importantly, I learned to distinguish Christmas traditions from the celebration of Jesus’ birth. I also learned I don’t need cozy sweaters and church pageants to ‘experience’ the holiday. And I learned not to play “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” because it might still make me cry.
What have you learned from celebrating the holidays differently? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!
Carole Sparks is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Connect with Carole through her website, http://carolesparks.com or her blog, http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.com.
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