Really, from the very start our holidays have been a mix of heart tugging, funny experiences and lots and lots of learning and new ways of adapting for this first-time expat family. I wrote about our first Christmas here for Expat Life in 2015. I’ll leave that piece as it is and try to focus on where the holidays have gone for us going from that point on. From tears and regret for not packing our holiday décor to adapting to the new look of Christmas with fake trees and banners that will never look like the ones sitting in our storage unit.
To happy holiday experiences with friends all over the world, joining each other and sharing our traditions as one. Some things remain the same as we enter our fifth year of expat and Bangkok living. We still miss our family. We miss our holidays home. We crave the smell of a real Christmas tree and yearn to make a snowball to throw at our four young sons. They don’t know what it was like, they don’t know our traditions as they were so young when we moved here. We show them pictures, tell them stories to remind them and keep the memories alive in their hearts. That’s our job, right? Memory seekers, makers and memory keepers.
We’ve learned, Pete and I that the trick to the survival of the holidays away is to adapt and conquer. There isn’t room for aches and pains, no time to focus on talking about what we don’t have, but going and getting what we do have here. Friends for one. Open and loving and caring people who love to celebrate and share traditions and experiences together. The next is food. What can we make with the ingredients we have available? What gets left off the menu from the year before because well, it was in no way edible or appetising.
Making an immediate good laugh for the next year and a space for a new recipe that maybe we wouldn’t have ordinarily had on our table but with the ingredients found in our Bangkok store we try; to adapt. Lastly, keeping an open mind. Not going for perfection, just going for what works on each holiday we celebrate. Now what are those holidays… for us the big holidays we find ourselves recreating here are Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. Each year my Mom has a job to do after the listed holiday ends.
She heads out to shop the sale racks for plates, napkins, Easter egg dye sets, Halloween pumpkin carving sets which aren’t used to carve pumpkins, but watermelons and pineapples. Cookie cutters in the shape of the themed holiday, ornaments for our Christmas tree. I travel back with an entire holiday themed suitcase at the end of the summer, one that Pete shakes his head at and secretly wishes (even though, it’s no secret to me) that it could be filled with other items or perhaps one less piece of luggage for us to haul back.
I’d carry that piece of luggage on my back the entire 24-30hour journey if I had to. This is a part of my job, I won’t let this part go, even as we become experienced travellers or expats. The memories must be made and bringing back this piece of home for the holidays is my duty. With friends, we organise Valentine’s Day cookie decorating, a village Easter egg hunt and egg races for children and adults alike.
We plan Halloween parties over coffee and share Thanksgiving each year in a different way with families who are open and accepting of one of our most precious holidays. We rally together children who are already overbooked with Christmas parties (seriously, these kid’s social lives are top notch) to add in just one more party and Secret Santa or Yankee swap or Christmas cracker crown to done.
Each year these holidays look different. We lose and gain friends. Missing the one who made the best carrot cake for every single occasion we shared. The partner who goes to Chinatown with me each year before Halloween, which is my one stop shopping literally in a few hours for Halloween. How I could never imagine that being the case. My eldest son at age 7 learned how to make minced meat pies by his friend and his Mum.
A now, tradition for this family. Or the year we paid too much for USDA grade beef on Christmas Day because we decided that trying to make a prime rib that tasted like rubber was making our holiday dinner as dark and hard to swallow as the meat was. Who doesn’t enjoy a steak on the grill anyway? We pumped the air con on, shut the curtains and danced to Christmas songs… adapt and conquer, need I remind you.
I am grateful for the friends who organised my first Thanksgiving for us while I was stuck in a state of depression and fear for all this new life was throwing at us. That was a turning point for me as what could be done with hope, and belief and gorgeous human beings. They opened my teary eyes and taught me a valuable lesson that I will hold onto for the rest of my life. While it’s no secret that this life away from your loved ones can be taxing.
During the holidays, I find if I keep myself focused, planning and organising, decorating and baking it helps me know I am doing the right thing for the boys, my job as their Mother. I also allow for that emotion to come through when I receive the text photo of my family together sharing dinner or my nieces and nephews dressed up for Halloween in the cutest little outfits, freezing their tails off.
I cry, happy tears for them and a longing for those moments with them. This year, we are going home for Christmas. This year there is no beach holiday photo with our Santa hats and bathing suits on. There will be no time for arranged Skype calls to read Christmas stories to my sister’s kids before they go to sleep on Christmas Eve, we will read it to them together, holding hands in matching pyjamas. The grill will be off, the air con resting and the Christmas music will be blaring in our childhood homes with our families and friends. We won’t hike a mountain, but ski, snowboard, sled and tube it.
We will throw that snowball at our sons and warm their feet with socks and hands with hand warmers. They’ll wear coats and boots that Grandpa’s will brush the snow off and put by the heaters. Shirts aren’t an option for these three weeks, and winter caps are mandatory not for sun protection but to warm their entire body. We will bake Christmas cookies with our Grandmothers, ice skate at our Great Grandmothers. We will seek shelter and warmth in our family’s arms and embrace every moment we have to share together. As the planning and organising and excitement is beginning around our trip home in December I can’t help thinking of what we can bring back to our families, from some of our adapted traditions. Maybe just maybe, Brodyn will teach them how to make mince pies and the littlest 3 will bring back a Christmas cracker for everyone they know. Who knows, let’s see, as they say, anything is possible, if you just believe.