You know what happens when you have the stomach flu and/or food poisoning followed by a nasty cold and/or sinus infection? Well, almost nothing. Max and I have experienced what I'm pretty sure is a marvel in modern medical science - we had mirror image health catastrophes this week. His started at the top and worked its way down and mine has worked in the opposite direction. It has really knocked us out and besides watching what I fully recognize is an awesomely silly guilty pleasure - Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1: Episodes 1-7 - our week was entirely uneventful.
But it does seem like a good time for an update!
This wasn't our first Thanksgiving overseas but our post is itty bitty and without any other members of our church in Casa like we found in Jerusalem we were feeling a bit homesick. But the great thing about the overseas community is that people come together - no matter how small. We had dinner at someone from the consulate's house without a dozen or so other people and it was just lovely. Thanksgiving at our respective familial homes has always been a mad house of half eaten pickle plates and screaming children. We love that. Thanksgiving this year was an adults only candle light affair and we loved that too. Perhaps the best part was the turkey triple threat: American with traditional herbs and stuffing, deep fried turkey (amazing for the record) and a Moroccan turkey with cumin and turmeric, stuffed with oranges.
I sometimes worry that my blog isn't "honest" enough. That I ought to be chronicling every bad traffic day or when I can't find something at the grocery store, but you know what? I don't really care about those things. (In part, I realize, because we practically live in Europe and I can find most things. I hear you Conakry!) It's my nature to be positive and to look for the best. Is there a growing homeless shelter/inhabited garbage city at the construction site just outside my front door? Yes, there is. BUT there is also an amazing French bakery around the corner and I live close enough to walk to work every day.
But we pulled out our Christmas tree a few weeks ago (as in, a few days before Thanksgiving) and I got my first whiff of the funk I'd been expecting to feel since arriving here but hadn't. Life in the Foreign Service has many benefits but it's hard to be away from family and familiarity sometimes. We feel especially homesick at times when family and friends come together and we worry about maintaining strong relationships with our siblings and parents. We put up our Christmas tree and decorated it like sad sacks but after sitting in front of our fire place for a little while with hot chocolate and a few phone calls home we felt a lot better. These are the trade offs. From Casa to Caracas Foreign Service officers work hard to stay in touch with family and to construct holiday traditions that will ground us.
But there are perks to holidays overseas as well. (I can't help it - even in my funk my glass is pretty full) The things that traditionally “get us into the spirit” back home are almost completely commercial. When you are on the streets downtown in any American city you see bells and Christmas trees and winter displays…to sell clothes or spaces or other attractions. Television adds puts an extra bounce in our step with commercials about Disneyland announcements on Christmas morning, semis full of Coke barreling down the snowy mountain, and wives getting just the perfect diamond necklace on Christmas eve. I’m not saying you can’t celebrate a less secular, less commercial Christmas in your homes and in your hearts, but it’s been interesting for me to see just how much of our holiday celebrations are driven by commercialism. But seeing Santa at the Mall is fun! And A Christmas Story is one of the finest films ever made! I know, I know (and I agree). My point is, living in countries that don’t publicly celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving means you have to construct your holidays from scratch. You have to/get to decide what aspects of holiday celebrations are important to you and which are not. It's actually a lot easier to avoid the commercial aspects of Christmas when there is only one store that sells Christmas things and the advent calendar you bought there tastes like soap :)
Ironically, in all this "How can I make Christmas meaningful to me" business the answer that has come up again and again is to make it meaningful for other people. We are trying to reinvent our Holidays overseas and that has been a rewarding practice so far. In fact, a certain Mr. Red beard is playing Santa tomorrow at the consulate party... Pictures forthcoming! (That is, if Mrs. Red Beard can recover enough to play photographer...)