"For those of us who have chosen to live overseas, the holidays can be bittersweet. Family and long-time friends are far away, and the closest thing we can get to a turkey with all the trimmings is a broiled peacock over rice."
For more than a year, I have been living Somewhere in Asia, in a county that is 98% Buddhist. As much as I bemoan the materialistic nature of the Christmas holidays in the U.S., it is quite strange to have November and December come and go without a carol, a Christmas tree, or a gathering of the kin.
For those of us who have chosen to live overseas, the holidays can be bittersweet. Family and long-time friends are far away, and the closest thing we can get to a turkey with all the trimmings is a broiled peacock over rice. Granted, there are many families who choose to order frozen turkeys to be shipped in via the U.S. commissary, but when the weather is 70 degrees and the palm trees sway in the breeze, it’s difficult to get into the holiday spirit.
I remember one of my first holidays spent abroad. I was living in Bolivia. After calling my grandmother for a turkey basting suggestions, I stuffed and baked my first turkey. It was a delicious rite of passage. Although I missed not having my father around to carve the turkey, as I sat down to eat, I had to marvel at hearing four languages spoken at the table. All of us were far way from our immediate family, and as we dug into potluck dishes from Italy, Germany, United States, Bolivia, and England, I realized my blessings in my new, international family.
I spent last Christmas Eve here in my host county, on the beach. Two lovely Australians and I had fresh lobsters and wine delivered to our table under the palm tree near our bungalows. We wore Santa hats, and gazed out at the sea.
Last week, my friend J.J. and I had our Thanksgiving dinner at the local Thai restaurant. To the sounds of Korean voices at the table next to us, we ordered pumpkin soup, and for desert: yams drizzled in a sweet sauce. At home later that day, I brought out my colored Christmas lights (made in China, bought in the U.S.), and placed them around my local, hand-blown glass nativity set, a gift from my driver, U.T.
Then, this past Sunday was the first day of advent. My German friend Dee, my Australian friend Allie, and I decided to create a “happening” down by the pool. Compensating for the lack of pine, U.T. and I used laurel leaves to make a large wreath. Then, after adding tiny red bows, a bell, and candles made in-country by a local women’s cooperative, we carried the wreath down to the pool.
In a red and green ceramic pitcher made in China, Dee and Allie brought hot spiced wine (a German traditional holiday drink not unlike hot sangria) and homemade almond advent cookies, straight from the oven. By the palm trees and the blue, blue pool, with a golden Buddhist temple in the distance, and the Mariah Carey Christmas album playing on P.’s laptop, we wore Santa hats and scarves, sipped the red hot wine, and shared cookies with the neighbors.
It’s a surreal world, the life of an ex-pat. Though so many of us are disillusioned with the countries in which we have our citizenship, there are so many parts of our homeland we long for, including slices of pumpkin pie, Christmas lights, and the gathering of our dear family and friends around the table.
We make do with what we have, and what we have is rich, indeed.