It’s both strange and wonderful to spend the holidays overseas.
It is strange because I was raised with such different traditions. Strange because the weather is warm and sunny, the trees retain their leaves and the snowmen are inflatable. Strange because in this season of joyful family gatherings, I don’t have any family nearby.
It is wonderful because I get to experiment with new traditions–like making tamales, singing Christmas carols in another language, and celebrating on the 24th. Wonderful because the weather is warm and sunny (hey, after 10 years, I’ve more than adapted!). Wonderful because I learn just who in my life really is “family” to me.
When you live overseas, you stand out. People turn and look at you on the street, assume you can’t speak their language, don’t know what you are doing, and that you are constantly in a state of homesickness. People remind you that you don’t belong when they ask “aren’t you going home for Christmas?” and are surprised that you are staying. Facebook pages are filled with photos of family time—tamaleadas, cafecitos, shopping and going to the movies, vacations at the beach. Everyone is busy and everyone is accompanied….but not everyone.
So many years I have been the person on the outside looking in, hoping and wishing to be part of it all, yet knowing that my path is the more solitary one. Because few people ask the harder questions, like where WILL you be on Christmas? Do you HAVE PEOPLE to celebrate with? Has anyone LOVED YOU GENEROUSLY through presents since you are far way from your loved ones? How can I take action to INCLUDE YOU in our parties and traditions?
Curiously, I am not the only one on the outside. I identify with an older Colombian woman, widowed, her daughter is grown and she belongs neither in her adoptive country nor in her birth country. And with a middle aged divorced man, who dreams of love, but who has been hurt and misunderstood too many times. With a young mother who lives close to where she was born and has known her husband since they were teenagers, yet she feels like a stranger in her own family. With a 40 year old single man who sold everything to get a second college degree, then found himself without a job, living with his parents in a small town where he didn’t grow up, wondering just where life was taking him.
I think I even identify with Mary, the mother of Jesus, She received unexpected news that didn’t even make sense (how do you get pregnant out of thin air?) yet came true. She must have endured great loneliness and suffering as those around her watched her grow great with child and whispered about what kind of a woman she was. Even her fiance barely believed her. Joseph was struggling to be a man who trusted God, yet whose God had handed him public embarrassment on a platter.
While staying on the very outskirts of Bethlehem, in a barely adequate shelter for animals, Mary’s time came. That night, a Savior was born to some bewildered and happy parents, and only a few dirty, tired shepherds noticed. The miracle of Jesus is not that he was born to a virgin, but that he became the face of the foreigner, the unwanted, the unnoticed, the lonely and family-less person on the outside, longing to be an insider.
“The mystery is that people who have never heard of God
and those who have heard of him all their lives stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.”
Christ For the City International
San Jose, Costa Rica