“Home” for the Holidays
In 13 years of Living the (Expat) Dream, we have never once gone “home” for the holidays.
There are 2 obvious reasons for this:
- We have been in Asia for 12 of those years, and it is freakin’ far.
- $$$: Tickets are super expensive.
In the beginning (pre-kids), it was a little sad, and we would feel some pangs of “homesickness,” but it wasn’t such a big deal. We traveled during Christmas time, and went to some amazing places like Merida (Venezuela), Bohol (Philippines), Cambodia, and Phuket. Even when we were still just the two of us, though, I made a small effort and we would have a small tree and do something special on Christmas Eve. I made our family holiday dish–California Casserole–a few times, but it wasn’t a deal breaker. Sometimes we went out for a “fancy” meal on Christmas Eve or Christmas. Sometimes we had Christmas with new travel friends, and sometimes it was just us. In Phuket, we had our lovely British neighbors who had us over for Boxing Day, and that was special, too.
We have never had Thanksgiving Day off. Not in all these years–believe it or not, it is not an international holiday! That means no parade and no football. As for the meal, YES, we still have it, but it is not easy!
When we started acquiring kids, I became more holiday-focused. Now, it is up to me to re-create holiday traditions and make them great. This post will focus on fall only because Christmas deserves its’ own post…
Thanks to living on a compound, Halloween has been pretty amazing all these years. Neighborhood-planned costume costumes for the kids, trick-or-treating, haunted houses, the whole shebang. Even though Halloween is “haram” in Saudi, we even had a costume parade the first few years at our school there, and little concerts with the kids singing “Bats fly across the sky,” and other fun songs. I really feel like we have missed very little from this holiday living abroad! The costs have been minimal, because my mom buys costumes at the end of the season and saves them for the kids for the next year, and we always buy cheap candy to pass out and hope our kids score better stuff to bring home for us to raid. Works every time.
This one is tough. The first obstacle to overcome is the day itself, which is not such a big deal. We have Thanksgiving normally the weekend before or after the actual day, and it works out.
Finding the right foods and ingredients is tricky…turkey tends to be expensive overseas, but we have found it in most places. We’ve also substituted roast chicken, which is not too bad. For “Southern Dressing,” is hard and sometimes impossible to find these ingredients: corn meal, sage, and poultry seasoning (can be homemade if the sage is available). In Venezuela, I substituted harina pan for the corn meal, and in Saudi I substituted polenta. Both worked out, but it is an extra layer of struggle.
This year, a difficult one, as I have mentioned previously, I was thinking ahead, even back in August. I happened to see a few packets of corn bread muffin mix, and grabbed them in case I couldn’t find corn meal later. As for sage, it was nowhere to be found. I bought fresh sage, and had plans to dry it and grind it myself, but at the last hour found someone who could bring it to me from a US base. I had everything else ready–celery–also touch-and-go–and parsley.
Since you have to make the corn bread and dry it out for two days, I asked my maid to make it for me on a school day, figuring that would save time. I also asked her to make banana break that same day, since we had bananas going bad…all this in a mixture of simple English and bits and pieces of Indonesian.
You can imagine the end to this story: we came home after work to find 36 banana corn muffins. Panic! Again, through compound neighbors and Go Jek (delivery), I was able to find both a corn bread package and corn meal within a few hours, and made my corn bread, and 2 days later, I made my dressing.
All for….what? My kids don’t really like it. The Haggard does, but it’s not even one of his favorites. The costs are somewhat high for the benefits–the stress of finding ingredients, buying imported foods and ingredients, and the time spent organizing the whole dish. I then share this dish with a community who has no idea what dressing is.
This is a tradition (making dressing) I’ve claimed, and whether it matters to others doesn’t matter to me. I know my mom is making the same dish, our families in Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas are eating the dish, and it connects us to them. My kids recognize it, and know it “belongs” to Thanksgiving. I also make homemade rolls, which they love, and chocolate meringue pie (just like my mom), and they love these, so it all evens out.
Traditions are maybe not as easy to re-create overseas, but they are certainly doable. We don’t have a meal with family, but we always share a meal with friends. I have hosted dinners in China, Saudi, and now Indonesia. One year I tried–with some success–to make a large group of people go around the table and tell what they we thankful for! We have had turkey-bake-offs, and read Thanksgiving poems, and played pin-the-tail on the turkey. I have organized “Turkey Trots” in three different countries.
The Haggard does not always understand my need to re-create traditions, and that is part of what makes him good for us–he is non-conventional, and questions stuff–lots of stuff. Questions even why we “do” Thanksgiving in a country that does not celebrate, and largely with people who do not either (South Africans, Colombians, Brits, Australians). The challenge of making the traditions happen overseas has become part of the deal, and one that I enjoy.
But it’s more than that–it’s a coping mechanism. We have chosen to live our lives away from our home country, and we are grateful for the lives we have, but we do give up a lot. We don’t have to give up our holidays, and Thanksgiving, in particular is a special one to bring to others: to stop, pause, and give thanks.
The cost–being away from family and country–is high. But the benefits of staying in this lifestyle remain higher than the alternative. So for the foreseeable future, I will keep making my dressing, but hopefully remember to bring sage back with me next summer.