Saturday, January 9, 2016

Holidays Overseas

Another set of holidays have come and gone. That makes eight so far. I'll be honest, I struggle this time of year. Yes, we are surrounded by dear friends who include us in holiday dinners and get-togethers. But we still miss our family and friends back in the U.S. I miss caroling with our church. I miss going to The Nutcracker Ballet with my daughter. I miss Saint Nicolas parties at the Metts'. I miss making Christmas cookies (no way am I turning on the oven in 90 degree weather!). I miss Christmas programs with cute kids singing off key and forgetting their lines. I miss sitting in the historic Baptist church in Hillsdale and listening to the Hillsdale College Choir and Orchestra perform Handel's Messiah. I miss watching our grandkids open their presents.

Our life here is good. I don't want you to get the idea that this is one long whine. But occasionally I feel the need to be honest about how hard it is at times to be far away from your loved ones. This is, without a doubt, the hardest time of year for me. And it's been a struggle to find what works and what doesn't for us.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I always loved getting together with the extended Hoyt family and doing a huge potluck meal. We didn't celebrate Thanksgiving at all this year. Too hot to roast a turkey, and there aren't any other Americans around to celebrate with. Here it's just another day. We did get to Skype with the Hoyt/Koch clan who had assembled at Rita's.

We got together with friends for Christmas Eve dinner, which is the big thing here (rather than Christmas day). Dinner is typically late so that you're finishing just about midnight when the fireworks start. For some the party continues for hours. We can't handle that kind of schedule, so we head home once the fireworks are (mostly) over. With the problems I've had with insomnia the last few years, we've learned it's not a good idea to mess with my internal clock too much. It takes me anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks to recover from a late night.

Which is why we opted not to accept any of the invitations we received for New Year's Eve. That night it's really hard to get away from the festivities before 2-3 a.m. Those kind of hours just kill me. I am officially old; just call me Granny :)

We continued our tradition of making something to give to our friends. A couple years ago we made pancake kits that included small jars of maple syrup I made using maple flavoring. This is not something readily available in Argentina. In fact, in all the years we've lived here, I've seen syrup on sale one time (a special deal at Walmart). Quite a few really liked the syrup, so this year we made it again and used pretty bottles with corks and tied a fancy bow around the neck.

I also made a few other gifts: fold-up totes, an artist's roll-up brush case, a camera strap cover, zippered box pouches... My first thought when thinking about gifts is: What can I make? That goes for birthdays and anniversaries, as well as Christmas.

I didn't decorate this year, except to set out the nativity set we bought as our gift for each other. I used to love to "deck the halls" but seem to have lost my decorating mojo over the past few years. It's just the two of us, our casita is tiny, and somehow it just seems like more work than it's worth.

We did get to skype with both kids Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, and see those adorable grandkids, if only on the computer screen. We watched Simon helping Tina decorate Christmas cookies, and Adalyn dancing to the music of her favorite musical Christmas tree ornaments.

We also received more Christmas cards this year than ever before. Usually we get one or two, but this year there were 8 (or was it 9?), along with a few birthday cards for both of us. That was something I really missed in the beginning; we always looked forward to the Christmas cards and letters that kept us abreast of what far-flung friends and family were up to, and suddenly nada, and we felt this huge disconnect. We get it: It's not easy (or cheap) to send cards to Argentina and usually requires a special trip to the post office to make sure you have the right amount of postage on the envelope. So to get so many cards this year was extra special.

Care packages would be nice, but aren't feasible. Because the postal system is so abysmal here, we can't get packages. Well, we could, but it would be a major ordeal. Every package gets stopped in customs, which requires a trip to Cordoba to the main post office, a long (several hour) wait in line, and then a huge import tax slapped on whatever was sent. The tax rarely bears any relation to the actual value of the package, and we'd spend at least as much as what the item(s) cost, if not more. We quit having people send packages after the second year; too much hassle. And it's worse now, because you have to have a special number in order to get packages out of customs, and getting that number requires multiple trips to various offices and lots of paperwork in the process.

It has taken some getting used to, having Christmas in the summer. Instead of roast turkey with all the trimmings, we grill a chicken and some vegetables, and toss a salad. Instead of cakes and pies and cookies, we feast on fresh fruit salad or ice cream for dessert. There are no Christmas programs at church, which puzzled me at first, until I realized out how impractical it would be since school just let out for the year and everyone has shifted into summer vacation mode.

What seemed so strange the first few years seems normal now, but it doesn't make me miss the familiarity of past Christmases any less. But I also realize that, even if we'd stayed in the states, things would have changed. Our kids grew up, got married, and other family traditions and obligations were added to the mix. My diagnosis of celiac disease puts a whole new spin on holiday meals, too. Changes are inevitable, whether you stay put or move overseas.

One of these years, I'd love to be able to take my granddaughters to see The Nutcracker Ballet. I wonder if they'll be as enthralled by the music and dancing as Tina was the first time she saw it, at age four? It was a magical experience, and I hope to replicate it again one day with those precious granddaughters.

What are your holiday traditions? Have you added new ones in recent years because of the changes in your family dynamics? Are there things you no longer do that you miss? What do you most look forward to each year?


rita said...

Thank you, dear Kim, for sharing from your heart.
This is very helpful for remembering and understanding our international workers scattered abroad.
Thank you especially for "laying down your life" for the Kingdom of God. The best is yet to come--the heavenly reward.

As for traditions and changes:
We used to ALL gather Christmas Eve, have a meal of artichokes (memories of Doulos life) and shrimp, then open one gift.
Those who could would spend the night.
And, of course, Christmas morning we would ALL be together, have a brunch of Sausage Souffle (Sam's 1st or 2nd grade teacher's recipe, still in his child handwriting) and baked oatmeal (your recipe!), and then the Christmas story and gift opening. A big meal mid afternoon and games and fellowship.
Of, course that has changed with the family growing and branching out.
We are blessed for now to have all our family close by, but it is increasingly difficult to ALL gather together.
Fewer and simpler decorations, another change.
We still haven't gotten away from generous gift-giving, try as we may.
But we have lost all interest or excitement over receiving gifts ourselves.
Church services have taken on more importance. Diane also enjoys going to the Thanksgiving Eve and Christmas Eve services at our church.

sara said...

I agree with Rita! thank you!!!

the last two years, we have actually celebrated Christmas in January..the only time we could get all our kids together. This year Alyssa couldn't get Christmas off so we moved it to the first week of January. We actually had Christmas in the afternoon on sunday after church. it was a little strange but wonderful and fun non the less!!

Mari said...

Change is hard, especially when it comes to Christmas traditions. I've had to get used to a few changes too, but nothing like all that you've dealt with. I know you didn't post this to be recognized, but it is a reminder of a little bit of what our missionaries give up to serve. Thank you.

The Bug said...

After my mother died our Christmases changed a lot - and then my dad remarried & Mike's mother died & we're really at loose ends. It's hard. We don't really have any traditions of our own - we just go to NC & hang out with whoever is available. This year we had to stay in a hotel because my dad's wife isn't doing well. And we didn't decorate because we were going to be gone so much. I'm not complaining - we were on a cruise part of that time :)

But I feel a real need to do something different with Christmas. Or just accept that it's not ever going to be as special as it used to be. Sigh.