CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
Holidays are supposed to be happy times – Norman Rockwell-esque gatherings with traditions, smiles, and people who love each other. But for those of us living continents away from our roots, holidays can be hard also. More than once I’ve spoken to someone who truly enjoyed living overseas, but struggled with what to do during a holiday.
Here are some ideas for making your holidays (any holiday, not just those in November and December) a happier time. Some of these ideas I have tried, others are from friends and maybe you have some of your own ideas.
Skype, Facetime, however you do it, video calls can make it seem like you are almost there. We have woken up in the middle of the night, brought our presents that were shipped and received earlier to the computer screen, and taken our turns opening them right along with our family on Christmas morning. We have sat our computer on the end of the table and enjoyed Thanksgiving with our family. Being able to look your dad in the eye when you tell him “Happy Father’s Day” or having the kids show their Halloween costumes to their aunts and uncles is priceless.
Celebrate with Adopted Family
Look around. Your friends are in the same boat (sometimes literally). More than once we have had a pot-luck holiday meal with our friends who are also stationed away from their families. Everyone brought a family recipe (or a family favorite bottle of wine) and came together. This is a great time to look a little further than your close circle of friends. We have invited military members who are on TDY near us or those living in a dorm. There’s always plenty of food to go around!
Call Grandma and get the recipe to her special brussel sprout dish. Hang up the stockings even if you don’t have a fire place. Ring the neighbor’s doorbell on May Day and leave flowers. Dye eggs even though you are still living in lodging and you don’t have your Easter baskets for those eggs. Some holiday memories are all about the traditions, so keep them going.
Develop New Traditions
Maybe you never really liked brussel sprouts anyway! This can be a liberating time to set new traditions with your spouse, immediate family or by yourself. Take advantage of your new location. Germany’s Christmas markets come to mind – I can’t wait to explore those this winter. Also, some sites and restaurants maybe open for our American holidays – not too many German restaurants will be closed on the 4th of July!
Take advantage of the extra time the kids have off of school and the holiday down days at work. Travel is one of the best advantages – in my book – of being stationed overseas and can help take your mind off of what you are missing. I’ve had fun singing Christmas carols in Australia and then counting down the New Year, almost before anyone else, in New Zealand. I didn’t even mind eating Thanksgiving lunch at McDonalds – when the McDonalds was in Guam and was followed up with a trip to the beach!
Celebrate on a Different Date
A few military bases celebrate “The Christmas That You Missed” in July, giving military members who were deployed a chance to celebrate once they return. When we were back in the States with my family this summer, we celebrated everyone’s birthday on a day that was none of our birthdays. We had cake, wore hats, sang happy un-birthday, had balloons, gave small presents and enjoyed being together.
What have you done to celebrate holidays away from home? What ideas can you share?