Life in Africa Ruined My Christmas...or Did It?


It's Christmas time, and I think more this year than ever, the topic of favorite Christmas traditions and favorite Christmas gifts keeps coming up. I attend a mom's group and last week both of these questions were our instructed topic of conversation for the entire two hour session. I'm never sure how to answer either of those questions, so I wasn't particularly thrilled and sat quietly. In the past, my answer has always started with, "Well, before we moved to Africa..." I guess I subconsciously equate our move to Africa with the end of Christmas traditions and I think that for a long time, I resented that fact. For so long I wanted to be the "normal" kid who had their list of Christmas traditions. Ones that they would continue when they had a family of their own. As an MK who moved around a lot, our Christmases changed with each new place. When I moved back to the states as an adult, the question of Christmas traditions just reminded me of what I had given up in exchange for the MK life.

Before we moved to Africa, we had traditions.

Before we moved to Africa, Christmas was magical. We would unwrap a present on Christmas Eve. It was always a new, warm pair of pajamas that we would wear on Christmas morning.

Before we moved to Africa, we would wake up to homemade cinnamon rolls and hot cocoa on Christmas morning. We were also allowed to eat our decorated (and quite stale) gingerbread house for breakfast.

Before we moved to Africa, we would get all dressed up and go to the midnight Christmas Eve service.

Before we moved to Africa, we would drive up to the snow to go sledding.

Before we moved to Africa...

This week, I have been reflecting on past Christmases. Maybe it's because this year, I have a daughter of my own. What do I want Christmas to be like for her? What is important to me? What were my favorite gifts? Favorite traditions?

And, I realized something. All of my "favorites" are not pre-Africa. They are not material gifs. They are not traditional, American Christmas traditions. Those are all good memories. But, all of my Christmas favorites are centered around people and experiences.

The Christmas that my grandparents came to visit us in Africa. It was such a special gift to have them come see our world.

The Christmas we spent on the island of Zanzibar - we explored Stone Town, we ate the best Indian food I've ever had while overlooking the Indian ocean, and we swam with dolphins in the rain.

One Christmas we spent in Tanzania, it rained for so many days that we had to hang up our laundry inside to dry and my brother hung his underwear atop our sad little Christmas palm tree.

All of the Christmases that we flew out to Seattle, Washington to visit family.

My first Christmas in Ohio, my husband's Aunt took us to see the Trans Siberian Orchestra. Easily one of my favorite Christmas memories.

For so long, I thought I would want my kids to have the kind of Christmas that I had before Africa, but I'm realizing, that is not totally true. I want my children to value the richness of experience; to appreciate people and community; to wade through the sometimes subconscious American Christmas expectations and understand deeply the real reason why we celebrate. I think this was all a lot easier when we didn't live in America. I had always dreamed of giving my children an "American Christmas," but I've realized that, while it's not bad, it is much harder to keep the important stuff central in this country. Remembering that "Jesus is the reason for the season" is significantly easier when you physically can't have all the Christmas fluff that seems to be a requirement for a "good" Christmas here.

If you are a parent of TCKs living overseas this Christmas, don't buy into the guilt that you are depriving your children if you can't give your them a “traditional” American Christmas. What you are giving them is so much better. The experiences, the memories, the stories you live through together will last a lifetime. Perhaps they, like me, will realize that, however un-Christmas-y this Christmas feels, it is filled with incomparable experiences that they may, one day, remember as their "favorites". Perhaps it will be easier for your children to filter through the fluff  of commercial Christmas and remember the real reason why we can have peace, joy, and hope. That is the greatest gift you can possibly give them.