Welcome to the December #TrailingSpouseStories blog crawl!
This December, we talk about the much anticipated and somehow dreaded, ultra sentimental Christmas holidays. How were the Christmas holidays outside your home country? How is it similar and different? What did you enjoy most spending Christmas abroad?
Find out how we spend our holidays and how it feels to spend it in different corners of the globe, so don’t forget to read more stories of fellow trailing spouses at the end of this blogpost 🙂
I lay down in bed beside my husband, full from a modest porcine feast filled with laughter and the usual exchange of personal daily Dubai war stories amongst handful of fellow pork loving Filipino friends. Pork was always the star of the noche buena and other celebrations in the pork restricted desert.
It was a happy Christmas celebration. I was blessed beyond belief, so it seemed that there was no time to feel sad or sorry for ourselves that evening. Here I was living the dream, sleeping beside my the love of my life, whom I have waited for so long to be physically together with (9 years with 3 years of that in a LDR), a bed to lie down on, a blanket to keep us warm through the cold desert winter and a livelihood that took care of our basic needs and some reasonable wants.
Yet this Christmas was just different.
No blinding Christmas light displays. No crazy traffic jams caused by the influx of balikbayans (i.e. expats who return home usually for a vacation) and last minute shoppers. No back-to-back-to-back Christmas get togethers with colleagues, friends and family. No traditional Christmas feast of callos madrileno with crusty French bread, fruit salad – a melange of fruit cocktail, bananas, condensed milk and whipped cream topped with maraschino cherries and chopped cashew nuts, carved Chinese ham from Quiapo and chicken galantina. No Christmas bazaars and tiangges. No hyper extended year-end non-working holidays.
The Husband needed to get proper sleep to be ready for the work day ahead.
Christmas in the UAE was just another normal day. Of course, it was. We lived in a Muslim country, so honoring the Jesus’ birthday with a day off was out of the question (Yes, even if the malls are bedecked with wreaths, ribbons and bling and, to top it off, a mile high Christmas tree surrounded by gifts), or rather, under the disgression of each’s employer. You’d be lucky to have one who would give a day off. Some, would actually take a personal leave just to revel in the holiday spirit.
I am not what you call a “Christmas person”, who considers this season the happiest time of the year. I don’t countdown to Christmas day. I don’t burst into song and awkward dance upon hearing twinkly notes of my favorite Christmas carols. I don’t relish in decorating our home as the trailing spouse life has taught me to live light. The Husband and I don’t even exchange gifts. But maybe I am a closet “Christmas person” because, deep inside, something was just off.
I heaved a sigh. “Yun na yun? (That’s it?)” I asked The Husband. “Mmmmhhhffff.” He grunted in his half-sleep. My mouth quivered; tears welled up and started rolling down my face. I could not hold back the sobs, which escaped my throat.
“Tahan na. Tama na iyak. (Calm down. Stop crying.) The Husband muttered as he put his arms around me, struggling to finally get the sleep he needed. I cried for a good five minutes with my mind flooded with memories of the Christmases I had and how their Christmas celebrations went on without me. I’ve always wondered how The Husband got through it on his first year out of the country, but he’s the non-sentimental type anyway.
Maybe it gets easier the longer I am away from home, I thought.Then the cool desert winter air and the warm embrace of The Husband got the better of me. The tears dried up and I was lulled into a deep, dreamless sleep.
I woke up to the screeching of tires and the rev of the engines of the of vehicles on Sheikh Zayed road, the guttural Arabic conversations, which sounded more like heated arguments, from below our flat (i.e. apartment), the shuffle of feet and the clicking of heels against the tiled floors of the neighbors en route to the elevator, off to work.
Twas another working day in Dubai.
The following Christmas in the desert, I was one of the lucky ones who enjoyed a day off as generously given by my employer, who also celebrated the Christian holiday. It wasn’t the Philippine definition of a full-on Christmas holiday, but it was more than enough by Dubai standards. I got a paid day off work.
It was another Christmas evening of pork revelry and the usual story telling. I proudly did not shed a single tear, despite the emptiness I felt even with full stomach as I lay down in bed.
Christmases in the US are not as far off in difference from my Dubai experience, except it had the commercial trimmings that the Philippines had. Maybe even more. Sooooo much more.
Lights hanging from light posts, cascading from roofs and trees, twinkling. Christmas trees, rows and rows of them, sold in once empty parking lots. Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman shaking their hips to the beat of Christmas carols. Advertisements of all forms, shapes and sizes all screamed “Buy, buy, buy gifts! Get ready for the holidays!” The American Christmas is absurdly and insanely commercial.
Everybody goes about their regular business because not everyone gets one day off on Christmas Day. Maybe to earn enough money to buy those Christmas gifts or maybe just to pay the bills? Or because their industries are the ones who are hard at work on holidays to allow others to play? But we are extra thankful that The Husband does enjoy a non-working Christmas day.
So after filling our bellies with the sumptuous noche buena (not as pork centric though as we are not as pork deprived here) exchanging lessons from our daily US lives and sharing stories from our past in the Philippines and the Middle East with a handful of our Filipino friends, I lay down in bed beside The Husband, curled up in his arms to keep warm.
Just one full day of rest on Chrstimas day before The Husband heads back into the salt mines on December 26th. We woke up past noon and then drove around the rich neighborhood in Dallas (which reminded me of Metro Manila’s exclusive villages like Forbes Park, Corinthian Gardens, Green Meadows, Ayala Alabang, etc) to gape at their ornate Christmas decor, similar to what people have back home, and, finally, dinner at Denny’s, which was the only place open that day.
Living abroad is for the brave. And during the Christmas season, you have to bump the braveness up a notch.
Christmases abroad will never, ever have the same festivity and feels as back home. A truth that you learn to accept and embrace, else you may end up more miserable, longing for something that may never be at the same level you want it to be. Like all memories of the past, you just need to hold on to, cherish and be grateful to have experienced the kind of Christmases you’ve had.
But to me, being away from home is a welcome, refreshing break, living with that which matters, sans all the holiday thrills and frills. Christmas, to me, is about family. Though I may not be able to spend it with my family and friends back home, I am just utterly grateful that I am not alone in this season. I actually get to spend it with family, my family of one.
Happy holidays to all!
P.S. All the photos in this post, unless otherwise stated, were taken by The Husband.
- Yuliya’s story on Tiny Expats on their journey and experience of winter holidays in 6 countries along the way.
- Abigail’s story on Cuddles & Crumbs on a look back on what we have been doing on Christmas and slowly working on our family traditions.
- Tala’s story on Tala Ocampo on how the Ocampo’s spent their first Christmas abroad in Colombo, Sri Lanka celebrating not only Christ’s birth but also the birth of their daughter Luna.
- Marie’s story on laughlovepractive on how times change, Christmas celebrations change. But one thing keeps it the same.
- Glendale’s story on G’s Kandy Krush on how she is celebrating my first Christmas in Sri Lanka, where she resides with her husband and 2 sons.
- Third’s story on Pinoy in America on how Pinoys have successfully brought the Philippines’ best-loved Christmas customs and traditions to America.
- Marc’s story on Fatherland, explaining how Christmas is different this year compared to past Christmases.
- Jenny’s story on My Mommyology on how Christmas in Manila or in the US is different every year with the kids. Or is it the same?”
- Kristine’s story on Tala Ocampo where Mac shares her reflections with Tala on spending Christmas away from home for a total of 15 years