I think in all my years, I only spent one Christmas with my grandparents, and can’t remember any spent with my cousins at all.
Growing up in a DOD family stationed overseas, my earliest Christmases were spent alternating years in London and Paris, until one year I put my foot down, declaring that Santa would have a better chance finding me at home and give me better presents if we weren’t in a hotel. That must’ve been true, because that Christmas, I received both a bicycle and a life-size teddy bear!
As a military wife, I made Christmas for our family wherever we happened to be stationed. Our tree shows our military travels ornament by ornament. Straw and wooden ornaments from Germany, an angel made of cotton bolls, a punched tin star decorated with red and green chilies and several emblazoned with state logos. Additionally, we have handmade clothespin soldiers and military-themed ones.
We’ve spent Christmas in the Middle East, the Deep South, the Caribbean and Europe, in New England, and in the mid-Atlantic states. We’ve been in New Mexico for over a decade now. We’ve celebrated the holiday on cruise ships, in fancy hotels, youth hostels and once, because we were PCSing, we spent Christmas night on a friend’s couch in Alabama.
Several times, the Christmas decorations have been hung with care amid piles of household goods ready to be packed or stacks of moving boxes ready to be unpacked.
Wherever we lived, we ate local traditional food, and since then, our Christmas meals continue to be very eclectic—cous cous and tajine, tamales, roast pork, red beans and rice, roast goose, lumpia—the list goes on and on. We’ve celebrated the holidays with our host nation friends, attending Catholic mass, Lutheran services, or building Solstice bonfires, frying latkes at Hanukah parties and going house-to-house “parranda-ing” into the wee hours in Puerto Rico.
Our kids have seen Santa arrive by sailboat, fire truck and jeep, and they have left their shoes out for Saint Nicklaus in Germany, and waited for the Three Kings in San Juan. At Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, Santa looked an awful lot like the first sergeant!
We’ve been blessed to have my parents around for the holidays as a constant. Wherever we’ve been stationed, they have tried to be there for us and the kids—even if that meant they had to drive 12 hours each way, leaving after only a day to avoid oncoming blizzards—or fly into remote locations. (It really puts a different twist on that carol, “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”)
Now that they are in their 90s and living nearby, it’s easier to celebrate together—with little drama. The biggest questions are: What will we have for dinner and shall we exchange gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?
Of course, it’s not the presents or the food which makes the holiday special. For us, it’s a time for reflection, considering the promise of hope, dreaming of what the future could, or should be, and of course, reliving memories of friendships made and kept in all corners of the globe during sometimes extraordinary times.
I wish you all the happiest of holidays with your family and friends and an amazing 2020!