Expat Xmas: Spending the holidays away from home

A snapshot at our Christmas Crew in Vienna last year

Last year was my first Christmas that I spent away from home, away from my family.

It wasn’t an easy call.

My husband, Jason, had a work gig in London that ended on December 22. We had a decision to make: Pay the steep prices for airfare to get back home for Christmas Eve? Or…stay in Europe.

Then we received an invitation from a friend of ours to join her in Vienna:

“I’m having many friends join me for Christmas this year, with people from all over. We would love you two to join us.”

So we did.

The collage of friends that she collected around the table greeted us warmly., each representing a different country and back-story. We soon learned that each one had their own reasons for why they weren’t with family that day. There were the geographic barriers, the mental ones, or just a preference to enjoy the company of another crew instead.

Over dinner, we got to know each other, sharing Christmas stories one at a time, and asking the kinds of get-to-know-you questions that are often rare for dinnertime fodder.

There’s something special about the types of conversations that the holidays bring out in friends and family. They seem to invite everyone to probe a little deeper, to share a little more compassion. We stayed until past midnight on Christmas Day morning, then I called my parents back home, as they were on their way to the annual holiday party with neighbors, the one I should have been at, too. I teared up a little when speaking with them. Next year, I promised. We’ll be back together next year.

This year is next year, and I’ve been spending the Christmas holiday break in Puerto Rico at a beach resort in San Juan, once again as a tag-along from a work trip for my husband. (He’s got a pretty good gig.)

But this year, unlike last year, my parents are tagging along, too. While we won’t be spending the holidays hoping for a White Christmas (more likely, we’ll be knees-deep in a pool), we’ll be together, exploring a new mindset for what “tropical Christmas” might mean for us all.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s still a little hard to be away. It’s odd to hear Spanish and Latin-American beats on the radios more so than Christmas songs, to sport a Santa Claus sarong, rather than a sweater. And of course, we still left some family behind.

Christmas has always been more of a state of mind for me, above anything else. It’s a time to come together, to share food, to connect. There’s something about the annual tradition of it all that brings a level of comfort and security that I have come to miss.

But it’s also made me realize that the holidays have been a time in my life where I’ve learned and grown the least, and being away these past two years has taught me even more. Last year in Vienna, we enjoyed gluhwein, warm and spiced mulled wine, at local markets. We attended a Christmas Day mass in Latin just to hear the Vienna Boys’ Choir perform. We enjoyed new traditional foods and dined in Viennese cafes, alit with white twinkle lights. We made new friends.

This year, in Puerto Rico, I’ve come to have a newfound respect for a whole other group — the incredible people who work throughout Christmas to support those of us who find ourselves on the road. I’m interacting with these people constantly — the hotel staff who works through the night, the Uber drivers who help us get from place to place, the bartender who introduced me to Coquito, a Puerto-Rican Christmas drink that’s blended egg nog and spice, the locals-only lunch spot where we ate Cubano sandwiches for lunch today. It’s reminding me that for many people, Christmas is just another day at work.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the privilege to get a peek at what this day is like from many different perspectives over these last two years. After all, it’s rare to find room for disruption in a thing you’ve done the same way for 30 years.

So thanks to everyone who’s made it possible for us to appreciate Christmas in a new way these past two years. While I’ll be glad to go home for the holidays next year, it’s been special to get to know something different. And I’m really glad to be experiencing parts of this with my family too.

Originally published at Bethany Crystal.

GM @USV, alum of @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC

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