It’s Complicated

I’ve been reading a lot of Foreign Service blogs and Facebook postings about the holidays over the last week or so. Conducting a bit of a survey, in fact, since I don’t have a heck of a lot else to do (more about that later).

I will admit, even though I am surrounded by Christmas glitz here, I am a bit homesick at the moment. As are a lot of other people in the FS, from what I can tell. It can be a little tough at this time of year.

“Holiday traditions” are actually very individual ideas about how things should be. If you live in one place your whole life, you don’t have to think too hard about that. Most of my non-FS Facebook friends are posting about last-minute shopping—you can do that when you live in a place with actual stores and near all the people you are buying for!—baking hundreds of cookies, visiting relatives who live on the same continent, and being tired (this seems to be only the women, hm).

For my FS friends and FS bloggers, it’s more complicated.

First of all, we have to start thinking about Christmas (and/or Hannukah) weeks, if not months, before the actual event. We start getting dire warnings from our APO or diplomatic pouch room around Halloween about how our gifts have NO HOPE of getting to post on time if we don’t order them RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

Then we all have to turn around and warn our relatives that they had better go out and buy stuff and mail it to us RIGHT THIS MINUTE. But oops, we don’t even know what we want for Christmas yet! So, we come up with a few things for our Amazon wish lists, and tell our kids to make lists RIGHT THIS MINUTE or Santa won’t come. No pressure!

If we want to send anything local, from post to home, we are also supposed to mail it by Thanksgiving. In theory. In fact, I never get packages mailed quite that early, but they always seem to get there on time. Since I hate malls and have never “done” Black Friday, I’ve gotten in the habit of using that day to make my lists, pack up anything I’ve bought along the way for mailing, and do some online ordering. It’s Black Friday my way and I actually quite enjoy it.

Then there’s the whole thing about the food you “have” to eat on Christmas. If you are living in a country with ham, turkey, canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, brown sugar and sweet potatoes all available at one time, well, you must not be overseas. Otherwise, count on ordering online way ahead of time, asking mom to send you something from home (ditto), scrounging, or getting creative.

Aside from the technicalities, which are considerable, there’s this whole problem of things not looking, sounding, or smelling right at Christmas time. Well, what can you do. In some places it’s summertime, in other places the weather is more or less the same all year, and in some countries they don’t celebrate Christmas at all.

At the posts where Christmas is celebrated, it is still not the same. In Catholic countries, gifts are opened on Christmas Eve and the baby Jesus brings them, not Santa Claus. In many Latin American countries, the Christ child is welcomed with giant firecrackers and gunfire at midnight on Christmas Eve. And in Central Europe there is the whole Krampus thing, which is really, really different.

Here in Catholic (but blessedly gunfire-free) Vienna, I’m told that everything shuts down at noon today (12/24) and would normally open again as usual on Christmas Day. This year, Christmas falls on a Sunday, so retail shops are closed anyway, but many museums are open. So what the heck, we may go see some art on Christmas. We’ve never done it that way before, but that’s sort of the point.

We learned many years ago that it does no good to try and recreate Christmas exactly the way it “should be” while overseas. You have to just go with the flow. Buy a few (small) firecrackers, grill for Christmas dinner if it’s nice out, and don’t sweat it if half the gifts arrive in January.

Now, after seven years in the States, I am having to relearn that lesson. I am older now, and I’ve noticed that I’m either becoming less adaptable or just plain lazy. Good timing, because even my youngest child has finally taken charge of his own Christmas shopping, everyone wraps their own presents (reusable cloth gift bags help), my husband has become quite a good cook, and my daughter has taken up baking.

In fact, it’s Christmas Eve morning, and though I woke up annoyingly early (probably because I am so used to being super-busy on the 24th), all I’ve got to do is wrap a couple of presents that arrived yesterday and whip up some refritos to go with my husband’s fajitas tonight. That’s it! Guess I have time for a nap later.

Tomorrow, my husband is making lasagna for Christmas dinner, and my daughter already made a pecan pie for dessert. I may set the table, or if the spirit moves me, even make some fresh sourdough bread as my contribution. Unless my daughter decides to do that.

So, this Christmas weekend: no house full of relatives, no ham or turkey, no sweet potatoes, and no heartwarming holiday movies. Fajitas, margaritas, profanity-laced shoot-’em ups, and a lot of lying around will rule. It’s not the way it’s “supposed” to be, but I think I can live with it  🙂

Wishing all of you out there in the wide world a lovely Christmas, no matter how truly different it turns out to be!


  1. I hope your packages have arrived on time (in both directions) and that you enjoy your “new” traditions, fajitas, margaritas, etc. It sounds like the “profantiy-laced shoot-’em ups” must be a choice over the “heartwarming holiday movies”?

    Merry Christmas to your family.


  2. have a fabulous Xmas….. Enjoy the Art! and Tex-Mex and Lasagna… (Cold Roast Beef sandwiches here, because no one else is cooking.)


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