Join me for a story from our first year living in Japan. I wrote this post for Planting Roots: Strength to Thrive in Military Life, but the content can apply to every family!
We may be wearing flip-flops and eating with chop-sticks, but it’s still Christmas!
“I miss Virginia—my friends and our house.” Seems like I heard this comment sighed from the lips of one of my children every few days.
It is 2007 and our family is still adjusting to life in Japan.
The weather is humid and unseasonably warm for December, even for Okinawa. Though we are excited to be living in a different country, the reality of the transition isn’t easy.
It doesn’t feel like Christmas, but the calendar begins the countdown of December days. My ten-year-old bursts through the front door with a wail, “Mom, I heard they are not getting any Christmas trees at the store on base this Christmas! Something happened to the shipment!”
Normally this news would not be a big deal, but this year is different.
There’s no place like home.
This year we are still getting settled in unfamiliar territory, and this year Dad is deploying right after Christmas. With a 4,000-pound weight limit for household goods, Christmas decorations didn’t make the packing list. We assumed we could buy a tree in Japan.
The ache of unfamiliarity hangs heavy. This is our first move with teenagers who have an iron grip on their friends “back home.” Our cement-block-typhoon-ready base house doesn’t yet look or feel like home. Not having a Christmas tree isn’t going to help anyone feel we are “home” for the holidays.
A few days later, my friend Cathy asks my girl, “What do you want for Christmas?”
My heart sinks as my daughter responds with a telltale tremor in her voice, “All I want is a Christmas tree.”
I worry about how to make Christmas special in a new place so far from family. Prayerfully I ask God, “Please help my kids get settled. How can I make this place feel like home this Christmas?”
Celebrating Christmas in New Places
It just doesn’t seem like Christmas…
The cherished rituals of celebrating Christmas are not limited to decorations or addresses. Even before Christmas arrives, the familiar routines of baking cookies and practicing for the school concerts are getting us in a more positive outlook.
I talk with my kids about how Christmas will be a little different this year, “but we can enjoy exploring new places and customs.” Sipping hot cocoa one afternoon, my youngest is cutting out snowflakes as we chat about the true meaning of Christmas.
I think I’m making headway with the whole Christmas-in-a-new-place thing.
“The baby Jesus is the most important thing about Christmas,” this sweet one chirps as she snips bits of white paper that litter the floor.
“But I still want a Christmas tree.”
“It won’t feel Christmas-y without one.”
I take a deep breath and put on my peppiest Mom voice, “We don’t need a tree, we will still celebrate Christmas with many of our family traditions we enjoy each year. Maybe you don’t feel like this place is home yet, but we can make a home for Christ in our hearts wherever we go.”
As December days pass, each one bringing us closer to Christmas, we enjoy many of the things we usually do at Christmas—some festive and others sacred.
Until this move, I have never considered the power of family traditions to help create continuity in the midst of changes and transitions of life.
Christmas comes in the midst of life as it is. This particular Christmas for our family was a blessing despite the adjustments we all faced. The next year, 2008, I faced a much more significant challenge. If you are grieving loss this year, I hope this post will encourage you.
What unexpected blessings have you found when your face challenges at Christmas? How have traditions strengthened your family?
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