I remember the first time I saw Santa Claus in a swimsuit. Not a pretty sight. It was our first Christmas in South Africa, and we were walking through a local mall. There before us was a Christmas display showing Santa on a surfboard with board shorts and sunglasses. [gasp]
SOOO wrong on so many levels.
Erwin and I looked at each other and said, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
We were about to experience a VERY DIFFERENT Christmas.
SHOCK #1 – SWELTERING HEAT
What a shock to experience a HOT Christmas on this side of the planet. We’d only ever known the snowy, cold Christmases in Canada—freezing temperatures, warm fires in the fireplace, ice skating and tobogganing, and hot apple cider to warm up afterward.
Snow wasn’t an inconvenience—it was our friend. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for mom to chill the cool drinks outside in the snow bank just because the fridge was too full of salads and supplies for the big Christmas dinner.
All of a sudden, our family of six was on the other side of the planet, sweating in 35’C weather and praying desperately for rain so that we could bake Christmas cookies or cook a turkey without melting. (Yes, we’re the reason there have been so many rainy Christmases over the last eleven years. Sorry, guys. 🙂
Sooo, now we just make peace with the sweat and bake anyway. It’s worth it!
SHOCK #2 – TINY TURKEYS
That first Christmas, I couldn’t find a big turkey anywhere. The only turkey in town was the size of a small chicken (3kg = 6lbs, 10oz).
When I asked the Xhosa guy who was working there for a BIGGER turkey (like the 15kg turkeys my mom would buy), he burst out laughing and said, “They don’t get that big!” Then he yelled across to the other guy working in produce, who then yelled to another guy working in the bakery and they all burst out laughing. In the end, I just stood there in a choir of laughter with my chicken-sized turkey.
Thankfully, we can now find bigger turkeys (4-5 kg each), and we just cook more of them to feed our tribe.
SHOCK #3 – NO PUMPKIN PIES
I don’t remember my mom baking pumpkin pies, ever. Why would she when they were available ‘a dime a dozen’ in Costco or the local grocery store?
So, you can imagine my surprise when someone first served me pumpkin pie in South Africa, and it arrived with onion and cheese in it. What?! Yes, folks, pumpkin pie in SA is a savoury dish more like a quiche than dessert.
Word to the wise: make sure you know what you’re asking for before you order it.
That meant that I had to quickly learn to make our family tradition from scratch: boil the pumpkin, puree it, add the spices, make the crust, bake the pie, and then chill it for 24 hours before serving. Don’t forget to chill 24 hours or you’ll be serving pumpkin soup.
After eleven years of practice, my pies are now AWESOME and Costco can learn from me! Haha!
SHOCK #4 – MISSING FRIENDS AND FAMILY
I don’t think we expected to miss friends and family as much as we did that first year. Even with Grandma and Grandpa flying here to be with us over the holidays, it felt weird. Strange. Lonely.
You see, it’s the familiarity of sights, sounds, and people that give us that “Home for the Holidays” feeling. That’s why, when something (or someone) is missing, it makes us feel ‘heart sore’ or sad.It’s the familiarity of sights, sounds, and people that give us that ‘Home for the Holidays’ feeling, regardless of where we are. Click To Tweet
In our case, we were starting a new chapter in our lives and we needed to make some NEW TRADITIONS and invite some NEW PEOPLE into our holiday circle.
That year, we asked a young newlywed couple from Sri Lanka to join us for Christmas dinner. They were also unable to go ‘home’ for Christmas, just like us.
Relative strangers soon became FAMILY. That’s what happens when you open your heart (despite your heartache) and celebrate with other people.
Over the years, we’ve made a family tradition of inviting other foreigners who can’t go ‘home’ to celebrate holidays or special events with us! We affectionately call it our ‘home-less’ party!
And it’s been WONDERFUL!
Have you lost your ‘Home for the Holidays’ feeling?
My friends, I won’t presume to understand what you’re going through right now. I don’t know your pain nor your heartache. Some of you have lost loved ones this year. Some of you have lost even more.
But I do know this…
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted: He rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Psalm 34:18 NLT).
Your Heavenly Father knows what you’re going through. He sees. He understands. And He’s still got a hope and a future for you.My friends, there’s a lot of LIFE left to live. You need to keep living it. Click To Tweet
Let’s get practical.
What does that look like at this time of year?
Here are a few suggestions of things that have worked for us.
- START A NEW TRADITION, even if it just means adding one new Christmas ornament to your tree or house to symbolize that you’ve survived one more year on this earth.
- REVISIT OLD TRADITIONS. What used to give you joy? Do that.
- WELCOME SOMEONE NEW INTO YOUR HOLIDAY CIRCLE. You never know the place they’ll hold in your heart in the future. It’s worth the emotional risk.
Praying comfort and strength for all of you at this time.
P.S. Please use the comment section below to share how YOU cope with heartache during the holidays.
Today is DAY 10 of the 31 Day Challenge, and I am using it to explore UNFORCED RHYTHMS OF GRACE—how to live an amazing life without burning out or losing my joy.
Am I perfect at this? Definitely not, but I’m on a mission to do it better. Thank you for joining me on this journey!
To read more 31 DAYS OF UNFORCED RHYTHMS, click here!