My 6th Christmas Abroad ~ What It is Like Not Being “Home” for the Holidays

My 6th Christmas Abroad ~ What It is Like Not Being “Home” for the Holidays

“Home for the holidays”!  Maybe I should start out by defining “home”. The dictionary tells us that home is a noun, an adverb, an adjective and yes, sometimes even a verb. For this blog post, home is “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household”.  If we take the word permanently as important, then “home” for me is/was Warren, Ohio. So….probably the last time I was in Warren Ohio for the holidays was 1999.  My mom, who was the epitome of Christmas, died in February 2000.  After that, I started spending the holidays in Florida.  Once, in 2009, the holidays were spent on a cruise ship in SE Asia. Yes, this part of the world has always been fascinating to me.  2018 marks the 6th Christmas I have spent out of the USA.  4 of which I will have spent in China.

Facebook memories…love them or hate them, they happen.  I was recently reminded of my post from December 2012.  “Another year has come and gone… has been the best and the worst year of my life….and blah, blah, blah….we’ll skip to the part where “I woke one morning and decided to be adventurous.  I have enrolled for an online course at the University of Miami of Florida to teach English as a second language.  I will start the course on January 7, 2013.  Hopefully, I can take a leave of absence from the YMCA, live abroad and teach English next fall”.

Christmas in Paris

2013 turned out to be life changing indeed.  I finished the course in June and started applying for positions in Paris, France. I was asked to a job interview for an agency in Paris.  After a Skype interview, I agreed to a face to face in Paris which I went to in October with a great friend.  The interview went well, but visa issues and such did not pan out.  At the same time, I was struggling through a dark time as my long-term relationship had come crashing to an end, leading to my first holiday abroad…..and I ran, I ran so far away……actually my Christmas gift from my brother and sister-in-law was an airline ticket to Paris for Christmas and New Years.

My first Christmas away from “home” was just what I needed. I rented a small, as in micro size, flat in Montmartre. Paris during the holidays was magical. Christmas Eve was spent at Sacre Coeur for midnight mass listening to the angelic voices of the Benedictine Nuns.  I returned “home” wanting to return to Paris.  I applied and was hired at another Paris agency.  I spent 2014 preparing to move to Paris.  I took a leave of absence from the YMCA, once again rented an apartment in Paris and flew to Chicago for my work visa.  3 days before my flight to Paris, I found out my work visa was denied…WTF….I packed my bags and moved to Paris in August of 2014 despite being jobless.  My second holiday abroad. I met some great expats and even Christmas caroled, drank mulled wine and ate mincemeat pies at Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. 

Caroling at Shakespeare and Co.
Mincemeat pies and Mulled Wine



My “home” in Amsterdam

Alone, but not lonely, in Paris, I woke Christmas Eve morning and decided to jump on a train to Amsterdam.  I booked a berth on a boat with 10 others.  What an amazing Christmas.  It was cold as I sat in solitude on the eve of Christmas. The night was clear, the stars sparkled in the water and the moon was a sliver as I sat on the top deck sipping a glass, well a plastic cup, of champagne.  I didn’t feel lonely, but I felt totally alive and filled with emotion. 

Top deck of my “home” in Amsterdam
Sipping bubbly in a plastic cup in Amsterdam on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve in the Red Light District
Christmas 2014




Christmas morning, I shared breakfast with strangers, cooked by the owner of the boat. We sang Christmas songs, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. Then, I went to the zoo.  I had to head back to Paris that evening as I had friends arriving for the New Year’s holiday.  The New Year’s holiday is a whole other story for another time…..cliff note version….we were watching fireworks over the Eiffel Tower, got pepper sprayed and I lost both of my phones.  We were fine, and life went on.  I stayed in Paris until February 2015. 

Those months in Paris fed my wanderlust.  I couldn’t return “home” and carry on.  I didn’t return to my job and all I could think about was I needed to travel.  I needed to live abroad again.  August 2015 landed me in Beijing. 

A Xiashan Christmas

My first Christmas in China was spent in Xiashan, a rural village in Shandong Province.  China, being a communist country, doesn’t celebrate Christmas.   I had 2 roommates, both on their gap year from high school, one from Australia and one from Germany, Jessica, and Adrian. We all taught at the primary school in Xiashan. Our school, because they had “foreign teachers”, planned “Christmas”.  They provided Santa hats for all the children.  The thing that touched my heart the most was the headmaster handing a Christmas gift, filled with one apple, to each child.  The happiness in their eyes and hearing them say Merry Christmas as they received their “gift” was quite emotional.  This was Christmas. This is what it’s all about.

Christmas Apples

Christmas 2016 found me in Qingdao.  Qingdao is a large seaside city with a big expat community. I had friends who invited me to a traditional American Christmas celebration.  They had a tree, gifts, Christmas carols, and a turkey dinner. That was all fine and dandy, but the thing that made Christmas special was at our kindergarten Christmas celebration. I was surrounded by Chinese teachers, Chinese students and Chinese parents.  We all joined hands around a Christmas tree.  The children’s eyes were filled with wonder.  As we held hands, we all sang We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Maybe this doesn’t seem like much, but it brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. I was in a communist country, celebrating a Christian holiday and I felt like I was “home”.

A Qingdao Christmas

2017 I spent in Dong’e.  I will spend 2018 here as well.  2017 I spent with my kindergarten kids and co-workers.  The school provided Santa hats for all the kids.  I taught them Christmas songs. We made Christmas cards they could take home. We made Christmas cookies.  It was heartwarming watching and listening.  This year I will have a party with all the students I tutor. I expect this year to be as wonderful as all the rest.  For now, Dong’e is my “home”

Christmas in Dong’e
Christmas Joy

Have I missed being “home for the holidays”?  I honestly have to say no. Sometimes I see things going on and think, “I wish I were there”, but something will happen here and I’m glad to be where I am.  I don’t miss the commercialism and I love the simplicity here.  Yes, if I am honest, I get feelings of melancholy, but that fades. I miss the lights, the scents, and the music, but somehow, my heart and soul are full.  If things go as planned, but we know what sometimes happens to the best-laid plans, I hope to be in the states for the holidays in 2019 and return to life abroad in 2020. 

I will end with the rest of my Facebook memory from 2012, the Holstee Manifesto:

“This is your life.  Do what you love and do it often.  If you don’t like something, change it.  If you don’t like your job, quit.  If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV.  If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.  Stop over-analyzing; life is simple.  All emotions are beautiful.  When you eat, appreciate every last bite.  Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself. Some opportunities only come once: seize them.  Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people.  We are united in our differences.  Ask the next person you see what their passion is and share your inspiring dream with them.  Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them, so go out and start creating.  Life is short.  Live your dream and wear your passion.”

Merry Everything and Happy Always!  Peace to you my friends in 2019!