Living abroad. It’s so exciting isn’t it!
Friends can be green with envy that we spend our days in the four exotic corners of the developed or the developing world and while each area has its endearing qualitites, make no mistake, there are drawbacks as well, especially when it comes to celebrating Christmas.
- In some places, you may celebrate Christmas in view of swaying palm trees and lush vegetation, but life may be much “simpler” (ie. insert ‘borderline spartan’ : …oops, no electricity again, maybe tomorrow!).
- Elsewhere, the pace of life and abundance of goods on store shelves may be almost indistinguishable from home, but you can’t find cranberry sauce for the turkey dinner, and is turkey dinner really turkey dinner without cranberry sauce?
One thing is sure… we’re definitely not in North America anymore!
Missing Table Time
Whether it’s Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays or anniversaries, being away from family and close friends at these times is always felt more acutely. After all, gathering around the table, the Bar-B-Q or the fire pit is often unseparable from the holiday itself: “That’s what it’s all about.”
On the mission field however, it’s different:
- Thanksgiving isn’t followed up with the fun of Black Friday shopping mayhem.
- Christmas will not see Grampa carving the turkey or Gramma scooping her gravy (that no one else has quite mastered).
- New Year’s day doesn’t include gathering with the same friends to watch the Rose Bowl.
It’s just not the same and you realize more and more that it’s the small things that you’re missing.
Facebook: the blessing & the curse
In the old days, missionaries left home and may have had a letter or a care package from time to time, but communication was infrequent enough that while it undoubtedly brought bouts of nostalgia, it was more punctual. Social media has made it such that we get updates, minute by minute. What’s more, now, Facebook Live, you can watch Grandma pour the gravy over the potatoes or watch the grandkids open their gifts.
This technology is amazing, but it can be a double-edged sword. Rather than punctual nostalgia, you can find yourself constantly pining for home, regretting the time away and even withdrawing from your real-life social network on the field. With every picture of a family gathering or friends’ outing… you’re reminded that you’re not there. That can be tough.
Our 6 Tips for surviving Christmas on the Mission Field
If you have not left on your mission yet, and are going to be away over Christmas, here are a few things that we’ve incorporated and that have helped us.
- Bring Favorite Christmas Tree Ornaments: Our tree was always a hodge-podge of unique ornaments, picked up here & there and each with a story. We brought many special ones with us and as trim the tree, we can still reminisce about the wheres, the whens and the whos of this or that ornament. We have a tangible connection to those places, places and associated memories.
- Pack Some Trimmings: We found out ahead of time what could or could not be easily found on the field and packed some with us for the trip, such as cranberry sauce, Stove-top dressing or canned pumpkin and cherry pie filling to complement turkey dinner. This made those festive meals pretty normal.
- Embrace the New: There are some things that will not be the same, no matter how much you try… embrace it. Although the 7-8′ Christmas Trees are available here (like we’d have at home), there’s no way we’ll pay the price for it so the small 4′ tree just becomes part of French Christmas for us. There’s less tree to fill and since we didn’t bring all of our ornaments anyway, it all works.
- Know the difference between “tag” and “solitaire”: There are times when it’s necessary to just hang out together as family, with no pressure to put on your “outside world face” and that’s OK. At other times, though, getting out with others or having company over can be just the thing for chasing the ex-pat blues; introduce them to your Christmas traditions. Too much of either is unwise so seek a balance. You can’t play tag alone, nor can you play solitaire with others, but there’s a time for each. Know when you need to pull back and when you need to move out.
- Seek Out Fellow Ex-Pats? We’ve met another Anglophone ex-pat family in the area and get together with them from time to time. We always try to get together over the holidays because it’s great “non-French” time for the kids and we just get each other due to common traditions & cultural reference points. Not only that, but we can – within reason – voice our frustrations or the challenges that we’re facing in our adopted culture. Shared experience can often shed light on how to go about navigating a situation and at the very least, you’ll know you’re not alone.
- Shhhhh… Don’t Tell the Kids: If you have children on the mission field, know that they take their cues from you. If you are constantly expressing the positives of being together as family, in a new place, experiencing new things, then that will be the determining factor in their own experience of being away from home and friends. By the same token, if you tend to express the empty place in your holiday (because home, family, church & “familiar” is absent) then that will influence their experience equally as much. Of course there’s a place for openness and transparency, the degree of which will be determined by the age of your children, but again, they take their cues from you.
There’s no Magic Pill
It’s impossible to completely wipe away all home-sickness during the holidays but there are steps you can take to minimize its severity. Home-sickness just means that you’re not at home and it’s part and parcel of being involved in missions; on one side of the coin, “exotic destination,” on the other, “longing for home.” Either way, we have faith that God sees our sacrifice and will honor that in the fullness of his timing.
If you can succeed at balancing all of these elements, you’ll find that the absence of your once-upon-a-time normal does not have to constitute abnormal but can simply become your new normal. When you are able to see things in that light, you’ll know that the Lord is helping you and you’re adapting well.
Here’s to your New Normal!
Are there tricks that you’ve used to help make Christmas (or another holiday) a whole lot easier on the mission field? I’d love to know about it… leave a comment below so we can all glean from your wisdom!
Next Post: Creating Powerful Communication Tools?
You’ve been accepted to go & you’ve got a destination, now you need financial support. How do you go about getting the word out to potential partners? There are some locally that you can speak with but what about those that are a ways off? And how do you consistently get the word out to those near and far?