A Traveler’s Guide to Christmas
The sun insists we lather up and head to the beach. Orange chocolate chip ice cream is practically a must on a scorcher like today. There’s hardly a free patch of sand between every other person in this city. No worries, because the water beckons. Not only are the swells perfect for a surf, I get to work on my tan. Crank the Beach Boys, it’s… Christmas?
The carols don’t prepare you for this juxtaposition.
Ironically, the joy of the holidays can get lost on the road, turning into some of the most difficult moments for travelers. Times when families gather and traditions play familiar melodies and we settle into comforts of sweet memories. While our hearts long for home, we discover the inescapable: Christmas is different here.
And you know what they say about change.
But that doesn’t mean December 25th can’t be celebrated in all its exotic beauty.
All You Need Is Love
Christmas, before the trees and presents and reindeer took over, harkens to the birth of Jesus, God’s Son, in the Christian tradition. It’s nearly certain that the date isn’t right for Jesus’s actual birthday, but that’s never been the point anyway. Christmas is a reminder that we are loved. That the Divine hasn’t abandoned us to our own devices, rather he’s joined in the mess.
Quite literally, in fact.
The biblical account gives us a picture of God’s loving intent when it tells us that the Divine himself was born in a manger, where the donkeys and sheep hung out.
Whether you practice Christianity or not, the songs and lights and gift giving of the season all point to the reality of love. God’s love for us. Our love for each other. A reality that takes on a new poignancy when you are far from home.
So don’t let holiday blues hijack the reign of love. Surround yourself with people to love, whether it’s your travel buddy or a significant other or work mates or new friends you made at the skateboard park. Cook a meal together, share your different holiday traditions, give small gifts, throw a party, or do something completely random. It may not look exactly like Christmas back home, but it will be a Christmas you’ll never forget.
Christmas on a Budget
I’m going to venture a guess and say you’re probably not traveling the world on the millions you’ve made from investing stock in Apple. If you are, you should come to my place for Christmas this year; let’s be friends.
For the rest of us, the season of gift giving can often put a further strain on our vagabond wallets as we want to show our friends and family how much we care while also afford a bus ticket to the next city. Thankfully, love isn’t bound by our income, only by the limits of our intentionality and creativity.
For those you share the season with, give the gift of yourself. Do you have a talent you can offer? A craft you can create for the sole purpose of giving away? Pictures you’ve taken together? This is a rare opportunity to gift these people with a piece of yourself; a reminder of you once the airport stages your goodbyes. Get your supplies together and make something happen they will cherish.
Home misses you, too. Your family and friends treasure your words and the time you take to talk with them, especially around the holidays. Maybe you can send them a care package of small gifts encapsulating your experience – some packaged food items unique to the country, artisan trinkets you picked up at the local market, or a lightweight piece of clothing so they can wear the latest Indian fashion back in Kansas. Think ahead and get mail across the ocean in time, then plan a Skype date well in advance so they know you mean business.
The internet is full of great ways to stay connected and send your love to nearly anyone, anywhere. So there really are no (good) excuses to Bah Humbug.
Celebrate Old/Create New Traditions
There may not be snow and hot cocoa, but that doesn’t mean you have to abandon all of your cherished holiday nuances. In fact, it’s important to carry on traditions you’ve made your own throughout the years.
Buy an ornament. Go to a Christmas Eve church service. Play holiday music in your house. Decorate a tree in the park or on the side of the road. Read the Christmas stories. Dance. Bake the ‘secret family recipe’ cookies. Hang your SmartWool socks as stockings. Treat yourself to the Christmas Day release at the local cinema.
Whatever you love to do at Christmas, do it. Determine to capture the spirit in whatever ways you can. The people you’re around will appreciate seeing how you celebrate the season and will be honored to share in a slice of your home.
In the same breath, one of the most telling aspects of any culture is their traditions. The dress, the dance, the music, the foods, the stories, the mythology, the crafts, the setting – you are invited to join in December 25th through the eyes of the rest of the world. Make the most of it! Welcome the Netherlands’ Sinterklaas instead of the jolly North-pole dweller; or give props to the actual Saint Nikolaos “the Wonderworker,” born in Greece during the end of the 3rd century. I wouldn’t be surprised if your city has free and unique events taking place for all to join in. Showing up is on you.
True, the annual Christmas turkey may not be available or affordable, but no need to despair. I hear the pickled quail is delicious.
Make Days Bright
Christmas isn’t especially fun or easy for everyone. It can be a difficult time of year for many reasons. Who knows? Maybe this Christmas, you can empathize a little better by being one who notices those going unnoticed.
I’m sure they need volunteers at the local soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
There will be elderly in rest homes who receive no visitors on this festive day.
Whatever vendors or restaurants are open would appreciate a visit from a thankful customer.
The goods and services we depend upon don’t stop just because it’s Christmas. And guess what? They are given to us by real people with real families and a real desire to not work on this day. Sometimes that’s life though. They watch after the needs of the world spinning ever on. The least we can do is watch after them in whatever small, gracious way we can afford. A smile. Gratitude. Encouragement. Kindness.
Since Christmas is about love, let us be particularly attuned to loving people this day. That might just be the most well-placed gift we give all year.
You won’t always get the odd festivities and exotic celebrations. You won’t always spend Christmas with these people. Best to embrace this holiday while you have it, whatever it looks like. Remember what the season is all about anyway and keep your eyes open for ways to share love. Grab an ice cream and crank the Beach Boys. “Little Saint Nick” is track number 1 on their 1964 Christmas Album.
But you probably knew that already.