You’d never guess where I’m writing this post from, but if you were to guess the back corner of the Coffee Garden… you’d be correct. It’s December 24th (Christmas Eve) in Thailand, and as the air conditioner greets the back of my neck, raising goosebumps on my arms and legs, I sip on a hot latte. It’s no peppermint mocha, but it will do. My headphones are blasting Christmas carols taken straight from YouTube, my favorite baristas are wearing reindeer antler headbands, and I’m currently thinking about my first Christmas away from home. Put bluntly, I’ve never felt so far removed from the holidays that are about to occur (literally and figuratively, I suppose).
Here in Thailand, Christmas is a well-known and talked-about holiday, and in any given shop, you might find a small Christmas tree or a banner proudly stating: “Happy New Year and Christmas Day!” My students have been running around for the last week in Santa hats. I walk into the Coffee Garden, and I’m greeted with: “Merry Christmas!” and reindeer antlers. My students prepped for and gave a Christmas show at their morning assembly today; the mall plays Christmas carols over the loudspeakers, and Big C sells all sorts of Christmas ornaments (although the display hardly looks touched). Christmas is here, and yet, it’s not. Christmas will be a day of midterm examinations—a full day of work followed by minimal celebration. Christmas will be 90 degrees, and there will be no crisp air to greet me at any point in the day. Christmas will be by myself.
Being here in Thailand, I wouldn’t say that I feel as if I need to be home for Christmas (or even that I particularly want to be), and I don’t feel as homesick as I thought I might. As my friends have been telling me all week… Christmas is just another day. Which, of course, it is. But when the majority of your friends have gone home for the holidays and are surrounded by loved ones, it’s easy to forget that Christmas is just another day. It’s easy to be reminded of what you do not have, or rather who you are not with. I can do without the Christmas trees and the gifts and the decorations (although I did create a tinsel tree for my apartment and all of my students in Santa hats make me super cheerful), and I can do without the food and the wine and the pie. And (when necessary) I can be without my family… but it would be nice if I didn’t have to be.
Christmas for me (like most people I know) is about being with family and our traditions. Of course, Christmas decorations, Christmas gifts, and Christmas mass all play into family and tradition, but when I think about missing Christmas, what I will really, truly, seriously miss is standing in a too-hot kitchen, surrounded by a mass of family members—noisy, laughing, jovial family members who have had one too many beers and who have to shout to be heard over the radio playing traditional Christmas music—and chopping carrots. Slicing cheese and placing crackers on an overflowing platter. Brewing coffee and sipping it while it’s too hot. Silently watching and observing everything that is taking place before me. Occasionally tossing in a sarcastic remark. Exchanging bewildered looks and knowing smirks with my sisters. Eating a huge meal with the people that I love and watching everyone expand, expand, expand until they spill out of their seats and into the living room. Sitting in front of the fireplace with another cup of coffee. Laughing until my sides hurt. Feeling so exhausted from eating and laughing that I have to take a nap on the couch. Being awakened with a last call for blueberry pie. Kissing my grandmother goodbye before venturing into the dark, crisp winter air to head home. The hour and a half drive home feeling content. Feeling loved. Feeling complete.
I will miss the tradition of being together.
For now, I am reveling in the fact that I am able to witness and celebrate one of my favorite holidays in such a new and foreign culture (even if the celebrations don’t exactly parallel the celebrations taking place at home). I will spend Christmas day in the classroom proctoring exams, and after that, perhaps I will head to the mall and treat myself to a Western meal. I’ll listen to Christmas music, and I’ll FaceTime my family. Maybe I’ll see a movie. I will be thinking about everyone I love and how thankful I am to have their love. All day, I will be bursting at the seams with gratitude for my health and my happiness, and for the health and happiness of my loved ones. I will be on my own, I will be away from home, and I will be okay.
Until we are together again… xx