Spending Christmas far from home, away from friends and family can be hard. And it can feel a bit surreal celebrating Christmas in a country where it’s not an official holiday. Yet, this distance means that unexpected signs of Christmas turn into precious gifts. Some of my favorite Christmas memories come from living abroad.
Two of these memories come from when I lived in Morocco.
One year, the city where I lived finally got a modern mall. Now, most of my friends know I don’t like to shop, but there’s something comforting about wandering through a shopping center filled with familiar brands where I can be with people and blend in as a shopper rather than stand out as a foreigner.
This particular day in December, I stepped into an American store and was caught by surprise. A Christmas carol was playing. Now, by December in the U.S. we’re often weary of the piped-in, non-descript Christmas songs that have already been playing for what seems like an eternity. But here, where most of the Christmas music I heard was in my home, the familiar tune had me transfixed. This unexpected sign of Christmas brought me joy.
An even stronger memory comes from one Christmas Eve when most of my ex-pat friends were traveling for the holiday. I felt lonely as I drove to church through dark streets crowded with rush hour traffic and people hurrying about their business without a clue that it was Christmas Eve.
In the church we were a small group of foreigners, mostly sub-Saharan Africans. But on this night, we were family. The service was lively! The young people presented a play, not polished but with great enthusiasm that told the whole story of the Bible from creation through the birth of Jesus and then beyond. While most of the evening was in French, we closed with a rousing version of the song “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King” in English. To this day, I think of this as a Christmas song. The joy that we shared crossed languages and cultures.
Yes, when I celebrate Christmas overseas I do miss friends and family. But I have also experienced unexpected simple moments that have touched me more deeply than when I’m surrounded by familiar celebrations. So, for all who celebrate this Christmas far from home, may you also experience unexpected joy.
About the Author: Libby is an IDEAS Associate and professional librarian. She currently resides in the Middle East and works with school libraries in Africa and Asia. Enjoy other blogs by Libby, such as How to Talk Expat.