When I lived abroad, holidays were always a little subdued. I didn’t have any family around, and sometimes I didn’t even have fellow Americans who understood my cultural traditions nearby. And so for minor holidays, I mainly forgot them. And for major holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc), I usually found a way to celebrate with other Americans, though not always.
Through living abroad for 2.5 years, I came to understand how important family is to me during the holiday season. Now, I have some nutty family members, just like everyone else. Sometimes they drive me nuts too.
But being surrounded by family and close friends on a day of celebration is truly a blessing.
Knowing you can be yourself, celebrating with those you love is something I will never stop being thankful for.
You see, when I lived abroad, I celebrated a few holidays with fellow volunteers, my host family, fellow teachers, and close South African friends. I nearly always found a “makeshift” family to celebrate with, especially for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I remember watching my host family and principal attempt to eat a traditional Thanksgiving spread, confused about how to eat the mashed potatoes and gravy, not to mention the strange looking green bean casserole.
I remember grilling out with close friends, roasting chicken, pork, and beef over an open fire outdoors, on Christmas day, wearing sleeveless shirts and shorts.
I remember another Thanksgiving, surrounded by nearly 30 fellow volunteers, with pumpkin, girl scout cookies, and lots of karaoke, among other things.
I remember going into some random person’s house (friend of a friend of a friend) and being treated to a traditional South African Christmas Eve meal.
I remember my last holiday in South Africa, mere days before I was medevac’d, eating Thanksgiving pizza at a backpackers with other volunteers and friends, who celebrated with me, and yet mourned my impending departure with me.
I have many fond memories of holidays spent in South Africa, being surrounded by friends-almost-family. Strange cross-cultural celebrations that didn’t fit into anyone’s “normal” holiday. And I am extraordinarily grateful for those experiences.
But at the end of the day, it makes me grateful to spend this holiday season, surrounded by family, celebrating in our family’s own special way. And as crazy and hectic as spending time with family can be, I’m grateful to have family around to spend it with. We aren’t perfect, but we are family.