Thursday, July 11, 2013

Holidays: Thriving, Not Just Surviving (Part 1)

It was a simple mistake. A miscalculation. A wrong assumption. And it was my fault.

We were packing and preparing to move overseas. Shipping a container was not an option in this landlocked country. Whatever we took on the plane was all we would get. We had to plan and prioritize what we would bring. There were lots of difficult decisions.
We packed as light as we could pack, removing anything we felt was not essential. I began pulling out anything I felt we could survive without. Then I made a decision I regret. The holiday decorations would not go with us.

I really thought the decorations would not be that important to us. We are a pretty adventurous and creative family, so I thought we could work around the lack of decorations.

When we arrived, the Christmas season came quickly. And I realized my mistake. Christmas has only been a holiday here for a few years, so no one knows anything about it… and decorations are extremely limited. It makes for great opportunities to teach what Christmas is really about, and our church takes full advantage of those opportunities. But it does not feel as festive here. Okay,… it does not feel like Christmas at all here!

In the States, every store, every street, every house had some sort of decoration. I did not have to decorate my home to still get the Christmas atmosphere… it was everywhere you looked! But here… the closest thing we saw was a hideous, skinny mannequin with a dirty, old Santa costume. The beard looked like something Goodwill would not even accept! It looked like something off of a horror film.

So, I realized my mistake. We missed those familiar holiday sights, and our family holiday traditions were a bigger deal to us than I had calculated. Without our family and friends in the States, it would be a challenge to overcome, but I do not want our family to just survive the holidays… I want them to thrive and look forward to these special times.

So, I started making a plan…
  1. I identified the holidays that were most important to our family.
Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, Resurrection Sunday (Easter), Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and birthdays were on the list.

  1. I identified what traditions or characteristics made it feel more like that holiday to each of the family members.
Some of the things were actually quite surprising. It was not the tree that made it feel like Christmas. It was anticipation and excitement. It was sights and smells. For New Year’s, it was the countdown!

  1. I did some research on things that might be confusing to the people in this country.
The people here ring bells to wake up their gods; so, having jingle bells for Christmas is probably not a good idea. They have a festival of lights near the Christmas season where they decorate with Christmas lights. So, using Christmas lights would possibly make many of them think we, too, celebrate Tihar. Nativity scenes? They look like idols. We just do not want to do anything that would confuse the people about who we worship. It just is not worth taking the chance with some things. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are a little tougher. They celebrate those days here, but it includes worship.

  1. I began to inventory what was available to us.
That first Christmas, I had barely figured out where to buy food… much less craft or school supplies! But after that Christmas, the search was on! I hate to shop, but I was on a mission. And this mission is still going on today. I am always on the lookout for something that could be used for a holiday. And not just in stores either. Pinterest has become a good friend. And we rarely throw away things that can be turned into something else. That is how I came up with 50 toilet paper rolls for our July 4th celebration!

  1. I began hunting for new family traditions.
Sometimes old family traditions cannot be duplicated in a new place. Instead of mourning the loss of those traditions, our family has purposed in our hearts to treasure those memories, while pursuing creating new, exciting memories. We like to think outside the box.

  1. We have looked for new friends to celebrate holidays with… whether it be other missionaries, or nationals who are familiar with the American holiday.
Chances are that there is someone who would love to learn some of those family traditions. Or maybe it is another missionary family who is feeling the loss of family and friends during the holidays.

  1. We (as well as our family and friends in the States) began brainstorming different ways we could still celebrate together.
It is amazing how we have been able to still feel connected on the holidays. It is not the same as sitting around the Thanksgiving table together, but it definitely gives us something to look forward to.

And that is the key. Our family needs something to look forward to. We do not want to dread the holidays, pining away over what we have lost. We want to keep moving forward, not looking back. We want to create happy memories. 

So, let’s get practical…

To Be Continued


Jen said...

Great post! I have always been big on holidays. For us it's a time of togetherness. Christmas is celebrated here, but not like America! My goal has been to make our house as festive as possible, I want my kids to look back with fondness on their childhood of the holidays we celebrated together. Pinterest is a huge help!

Dee Snyder said...

Excellent post! As an old MK-- have memories of childhood Christmas in the PI. Almost miraculously my sweet Daddy found a real tree for us each year-- some were not the usual evergreen but they were a CHRISTMAS tree! Mom made it such a special time with memories I still treasure. Crepe paper came in "brick print" back inthe "olden days" so Dad built a little fireplace for our stockings to hang on. Not fancy embroidered ones-- the biggest sock we could fine in our dresser drawer. The year I returned to America for high school, Mom had a "real stocking" made for me-- red flannel, bias tape border and my name embroidered on it! Still have it today and use it each year. I introduced my American hubby to having a stocking-- so it is a real tradition for our whole family.
Ladies, who are packing to go to the field for the first time-- TAKE at least a few of those very special knick/knacks or holiday decorations with you. You are making a NEW home whereever you go--wonderful to have a few momentos of "back home" or the other home!!

Lou Ann Keiser said...

I can certainly relate. Christmas here is just starting to be more commercialized--more decorations. We came here about 30 years ago, and there was hardly a Christmas tree to be seen anywhere. Stores decorated with manger scenes in their front windows, but no lights, nothing outside, no festive cheer. In the early years, we actually tried to celebrate the 4th of July. It's a little hard in a country not to excited about America and with no one to do it with! We finally pretty much dropped the 4th--except for grilling hamburgers and a red, white, and blue tablecloth. We did try to keep Thanksgivings and Christmas very special. Sadly, our church people use Easter week to be gone, so that was a real disappointment to me. I mean, what is more wonderful than the resurrection? I think it's hard to find the balance, yet every family needs to strive to do that. I loved your post--especially that you made the decorations important for your family. It is important to have Christian holidays that are special traditions for your family and a witness to others. So excited to have found this site.