Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Not Home For The Holidays

Happy Holidays 2012- The McKeating Version

Establishing new holiday traditions sounded like a welcome
challenge for me because for years I've gone with the obligatory flow of cook this, go here, do this...all established long ago. However, I cautiously admit that I've dreamed of doing things a little differently- like having Christmas at our own house, not having to haul all the gifts to and fro, not having to add a "road trip" to the already exhausting drum beat of the holidays. It's a lot to do year after year and most of it falls on me. So, this holiday season I finally had my chance to do things the way I had envisioned but in all honesty the task proved difficult, depressing even -no surprise considering our sunlight deprived bunch.

 Here was one of my favorite moments of this holiday! Hannah and I were coming home from the store and we got stuck behind this wildly decorated Santa toting firetruck. It was just ahead of us and as we turned onto our street we could tell that it was turning into the Oakwood Apartment complex. It was blowing it's sirens and also blasting "Here Comes Santa Claus". I was as thrilled as any kid would be!

Hannah ran up five flights of stairs and down our hallway to get her little brother. Sintayehu grabbed shoes and ran outside in time to see Santa. All the boys waved at him and ran along side the fire truck as it slowly rolled through the parking lot. It was a huge, huge moment for all of our kids! There were firemen walking around and handing out candy canes, and telling people "Merry Christmas". It was an exciting and awesome moment. I literally teared up over it all.

Thank you, Falls Church Volunteer Fire Dept!

Maybe it's because we have all hit a wall of relative heaviness lately but the holidays seemed to bring it all to head. We are all missing our home, our old church, our many friends, our FAMILY, our way of life (way more laid back than NOVA/Northern Virginia)  which would be no big deal and expected if we were new to "change" or if we were normal people but we are not. Though we are new to the Foreign Service we are not new to change (big or small, we're usually game) nor are we shy of a challenge or two, in fact we have a bit of magnetic draw to such chaos, but right now I am really wondering how much more difficult it will be once we are in Jakarta? In all honesty, I've been shocked by our need for familiar comforts. I thought we were heartier than that. I thought we were a free spirited band of gypsies who are so grounded in our ideals than we could celebrate our Lord's birth anywhere but it turns out we may be more creatures of habit than I realized. I'm thinking our lack of holiday cheer is particularly concerning because we suffered so much just being away from "home" but we are still in the United States- how much more "un-Christmas-y" will it feel when we are in Jakarta, a majority-Muslim country without Target and without the usual repetitive Christmas tunes pumping through  Safeway's speakers?

Here is one thing that the kids loved- our Gingerbread House. 
I think it will take purposeful planning and effort. We will have to be the ones making our holidays cheerful, not expect someone else to do it for us. I don't think I realized how much my parents do to make our holidays meaningful.

Here are a few traditions we can do no matter where we live:

-Make an actual list of things I'm thankful in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.
-An Advent calendar and daily time to reflect on the miracle of Christ's birth as days draw nearer to Christmas.
-Cook the family favorites. Unfortunately for us, there is no restaurant that compares to our family's holiday dinners and I learned this year that those tastes are important, even though it is work intensive I will cook the usual's, even if I have to order specific items online.
-Sharing what you have with others is the true Spirit of Christmas, have others over and/or go to their event if you are invited.
-Be social and have friendly connections before the holidays are even a thought.
-Make fudge or other treats that remind us of our holiday favorites and give them out as small but personal gifts to lots of people.
-Participate in ex-pat community events, such as cookie exchanges or caroling (ie..check community calendar every few days).
-Go all out and decorate no matter how little space there is for a tree and no matter how little storage space is available for storing it all afterwards. Kids need Christmas trees, with lights and stuff all over it.
-Play your favorite Christmas carols and sing songs as often as you can (don't just listen to NPR or worry about what Congress is or isn't doing, or focus on terrible tragedies as events unfold).
-Buy a red or other cheerful holiday tablecloth and have some sort of centerpiece that goes with the season.
-Get family and friends to email favorite holiday recipes way ahead of time so that we aren't scouring the internet for one that is "close enough" the day before I plan to cook it.
-Talk about what each member loves and needs to make their holiday away from family as meaningful as possible, and do it.
-Plan the actual day, like Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day, and talk about our expectations ahead of time.
-Wrap presents while are carols playing in the background, make it a happy occasion :)
-Mail the extended family their gifts at least 10 days before Christmas, probably a lot sooner than that once we are abroad.
-Refuse to do it all by myself.
-Christmas gift shop with my spouse. Remind him this is a good thing, reward good behavior with Starbucks.
-String up or display all the beautiful Christmas cards that friends and family send us.

Here's what we will not be doing next time:

-Forget to charge the camera batteries.
-No laundromat nor studying on Christmas day after all the excitement has died down.
-No going to just "any" Chinese (or ethnic) restaurant that is open on Christmas day in place of a traditional homemade dinner.
-No trying to make up for any lack of holiday cheer by cooking all of our favorites all day for the WEEK after the holiday has passed.
-No more making homemade tamales all by myself!

Photo op after the play ended. One of my kids is in the group of shepherds :) 

Here is what we did right:

-Watched "Christmas Story" together as a family, my kids have it nearly memorized by now.
- Cooked a nice dinner for Christmas Eve.
- Went to a beautiful Christmas Eve church service, complete with a children's play and a candlelight round of Silent Night (Christmas Eve service is one thing we have longed to add to our family's holiday traditions).
- Gave our kids and each other meaningful gifts.
- Called relatives and shouted Merry Christmas as crowds of family shouted Merry Christmas back to us via speaker phone.
- Went to see Les Miserables- an amazing movie that basically pours Christ's message of grace and mercy out of every scene.
-Decorated some areas of our apartment with lights and greenery, made snowflakes out of coffee filters.

My New Year's Resolution?

 To make holidays in 2013 cheerful and meaningful, no matter where we are!



  1. We loved seeing that fire truck making its rounds, too! I appreciate all your sentiments here and look forward to receiving some of your homemade tamales next year... from Jakarta no less...

  2. That firetruck really was one of my favorite things this year. Sintayehu was so happy that he almost needed oxygen, I mean what 8 yr old boy wouldn't love seeing Santa, real firemen and a real firetruck all in one single moment? I really should write them a note and express my gratitude!
    And, my Frontera friends... I'll make you tamales before you all go as long as you're willing to join the assembly line :) we seriously, love, love tamales! Or, we could just buy some and have you guys over... which ever one works best.