Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holidays. Show all posts

Thursday, December 24, 2015

New Traditions

When we talked about how to spend our first official married Christmas together, this isn’t quite what I imagined.

We talked about what traditions we’d want to start. (Ok, I talked about it. He asked for examples, since he’s basically been on his own for ages). I mentioned how I would love to spend the week before Christmas with people doing fun Christmas-y things, like making cookies with friends or watching Christmas movies together.

Which we did. We had lots of time for movies, more than I expected. And a Christmas cookie extravaganza with girls did happen, on the one day I was feeling 100%.

But spending this week-before-Christmas switching between bed and couch, trying to keep down liquids, wasn’t quite what I had in mind. (For the record, I was only sick-sick Sunday, then after a "normal" day Monday, ate something that disagreed with both SM and I, that put me back in sick mode and him in "discomfort" for the next few days. Blah!)

And no, I’m pretty sure I’m not pregnant. Though for the first time in my life, it is a bit strange to realize that the possibility is actually real. More-so, of course, than the virgin-birth Mary variety.

And so we began our first Christmas together with sickness. SM pointed out today that last year around this time, I was heading out to dinner with his friends while he stayed home on his couch sick with a flu/cold… and this year he’s headed to the candlelight Christmas Eve service where we were supposed to meet friends, while I stay home on his (now "our”) couch and munch more toast.

Let’s just hope this isn’t a tradition we’ll keep!

Despite some unplanned events of the past week, however, we have both learned a lot. This is the first time either of us have been sick since we got married in August, and I’ve gotten to see a side of my husband that I “knew” was there but hadn’t yet really experienced.

The seriously caring, tender side that takes really really good care of me when I’m sick.

Ok, call it newly-wed-ism. Maybe it won’t last, just like everyone seems to say. But all in all, I married a really good guy.

A guy who hasn't just learned the importance of Christmas movies and that Elf is actually pretty amusing, but also one who got to experience someone else miserably throwing up and not keeping anything down including water for the first time ever just days before Christmas Eve. Who learned about the Urgent Care system and even got to navigate picking up his first-ever prescription on his own, all in one day. Who has figured out the BRAT diet and learned that sprite, crackers, toast, and ginger ale are all really really good things to have around. (Poor guy never gets sick! I -ahem- feel so bad for him. ;)

All in all, as I lay here typing, listening to a made-for-TV Christmas special streaming down from the apartment above, looking at a Christmas tree filled with lights and memories of Christmases around the world, with gladness in my heart for the amazing people God has surrounded me with over the years and for His unfailing presence and love... and when I think of the reason we’re here doing any of these things at all… I remember that the first Christmas probably didn’t go quite as expected, either.

No room in an inn.

No women to surround her... only an unexperienced husband pushing past cultural norms to be there for her when she needed him most.

No place for Mary to lay her newborn, except a dirty feeding trough.

Definitely no privacy, no glamour for the virgin-birth mother, just lots of unknowns of what God might be doing and trying their best to be available and be faithful in hard circumstances.

And I remember that Christmas this year, in a comfortable home with doctors and food and clean blankets and clothing and controllable warmth - despite a few hiccups - is actually going pretty well...

Christmas Traditions

My husband, poor guy, is slowly but surely learning the importance of celebrating the Christmas season. Don’t get me wrong - he knows the importance of the season! But having lived as a bachelor for so many years on his own, he never got to experience the importance of traditions that (I think) make it even more special and memorable along the way.

Last year, when we were still just dating, and I was preparing to make the third of 5 moves in a year from one house to another, I lamented about not being able to decorate for Christmas. SM offered his place, at which point I was both ever-grateful for the offer and shocked he had never had a Christmas tree since coming to Holland (Michigan). How could that be?! Lucky for me, my new roommate asked me to come early to help decorate my new house with her tree, and I used my own small Christmas tree from years past to decorate with the man I would later marry.

It was fun. He loved having the ambiance of a tree, and his parents were more than impressed at this girl who brought Christmas cheer to his life, apparently. :)

Come this year, after navigating Thanksgiving across Indiana together, we’re now moving into the Christmas season as a married couple for the first time. I’m so thankful to be living in ONE PLACE for awhile ;) and to be establishing traditions together. What SM didn’t know, though, was the importance of said traditions. Putting up a Christmas tree? Yes. Candles? He’s learning ;). Christmas movies? This is a brand new thing.

I used to love watching Christmas movies on TV while making Christmas cookies at my parent’s house. Early in college, I decided to make this a tradition, and set out to acquire copies of my favorites. I didn’t realize at the time just how important this would be for my soon-to-be transient lifestyle, but I am forever thankful I did. Because Christmas. Became Christmas. When White Christmas, Elf, and Miracle on 34th Street hit the (laptop) screen. Later The Nativity Story got added to the mix, and housemates insisted on Home Alone’s presence in the lineup. In climates where Christmas falls in the hottest season of the year, and temps flux between 80 and 100 with 98% humidity and full sun, it was helpful to have little things in place that helped make the season feel a little more like, well, the holidays. We’d do things like make snowflakes out of A4 (printer) paper to put on the windows while eating fresh pineapple from the duka down the street, and watch the year-before’s downloaded Thanksgiving parade on the Saturday after Thanksgiving as we feasted on the biggest chicken we could find (since we didn’t have the day off). Or turn on the air conditioning full blast (though it didn’t really do much!) while watching white Christmas and let ourselves pretend we were in a place where things were “normal.”

But SM, poor guy, didn’t quite understand this before now. So when I mentioned watching some of the Christmas movies that we watched together last year AGAIN, just 12 months later… he was confused. “But we just watched that last year? You mean you watch them ALL EVERY year?”

Yep! I sure do!

Because when you live in places where it doesn’t “feel” like Christmas, such traditions become important.

Later, my favorite person, as he slowly accepted and adjusted to this idea of watching Christmas movies EVERY.Single.year. asked a few insightful questions.

1. Do any of the “traditional” Christmas movies have anyone of color in them?
Hmm. Ouch. Well, no. Unless you count the cook in Miracle on 34th Street, everyone is pretty much just… white. As a cross-cultural missionary and now in a cross-cultural marriage… this makes me cringe. They’ll still get watched every year… but my eyes have definitely been opened!

2. Aren’t there any GUY Christmas movies?
Again… hmm. Neither of us are huge fans of Home Alone. And I’ve never actually seen the Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation... so I don’t know if that counts. We rewatched Elf this year and he’s apparently decided that it’s a great guy movie, but we could still use some more. Someone recently suggested that Star Wars #5 has a desert/snow scene so that might work. Any other suggestions? Anyone?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Korean Thanksgiving

Happy Korean Thanksgiving! 
(Ok, this is a bit late, since it was on September 27, 2015... but this week seemed like an appropriate time to finally put this up anyway!)

Life has gotten a bit crazy the past couple of weeks months, but that didn’t stop Sang Mark and I from celebrating a special (though new to me) holiday that’s a special part of his heritage – Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving! I had no idea that such a holiday existed, and it got me thinking how in our Korean-Canadian-American-(slightly East African) marriage, we’ll have a lot of thanksgivings to celebrate each fall! Korea, Canada, and America all have their own celebrations on their own days, with their own traditions. That’s a lot of opportunities to give thanks!

Since I am still on a crash-course to learning about Korean-everything, I was curious to learn more about this holiday. We went to Korean church here in Holland to celebrate the day, with an English-version service for all the outsiders who came to celebrate, and then joined a feast of Korean food afterwards.

Later I asked Sang Mark about his memories of Korean Thanksgiving growing up. He said that people usually travel from large cities to their hometowns to spend time with family on this day. Apparently the trip usually takes hours – not because the country is large, but because traffic congestion is so bad in Seoul. (Think of our American Thanksgiving weekend traffic, in a city with 10 million people!)

In Sang Mark’s family, his father had basically raised his 7 younger siblings after their parents died, so everyone came to their house for the holiday. The women (moms and aunts) came a couple of days early to help make the food with Sang Mark’s mom – kind of like how it works in Tanzania before a wedding! I guess it’s easier (and more fun) to make large quantities of good food with people you love, all in one place… instead of everyone making dishes separately and bringing them to a gathering later, as we often do here in the States.

Traditionally, Korean Thanksgiving was meant as a memorial and time of thanksgiving for their ancestors. Since Koreans traditionally believed that a person’s spirit doesn’t die when they die physically, but stays around to protect the descendants, they honored the ancestors (charye) and returned the favor by preparing special foods for them. Sang Mark’s father did insist that they bow down to give thanks to their grandparents who had already passed… but since the rest of the family were strong believers, they immediately turned to worshipping God after this.

I appreciated the way that the Korean pastor explained about this day. He said, “Traditionally, Koreans gave thanks only to our ancestors for the harvest. But as Christians, we give thanks only to God.”

Sang Mark says Thanksgiving was always super fun. He’d come home from school, and everyone was there – all his cousins and aunts and uncles. They ate a lot of food… no turkey, but lots of different kinds of meats like gulbi (a kind of pan-fried fish) and bulgogi (a kind of Korean BBQ using thinly sliced beef). They had lots of different kinds of soups, vegetables like cooked spinach, and a kind of “glass” noodle called japchae. They ate a lot of fruits too, like Asian pears, honey-crisp type apples, and gaum (persimmon). Chestnuts were a part of the day, as well as steamed rice cakes (or songpyeon). Some of these were made with sweetened red beans and honey inside, and some with brown sugar and sesame seeds. I find them a bit bland (then again, I tried a piece alongside a super-sweet Walmart-bought cake!) but SM (and most Koreans, of course) think they’re amazing.
Source: BostonChildren'
Much like my family Thanksgiving experiences, along with all the food were fun games to play with cousins. Sang Mark played Yutnori, which is a board game. “Yut” refers to the wooden sticks, and “nori” means game. In this game you throw four sticks into the air, and let them fall to the floor. Each stick has a front and back side, with dots. Depending on the combination of dots that you get, you advance like in monopoly.

With lots of yummy food, games, and time with family – I can imagine why any young boy would enjoy this holiday! We certainly enjoyed our own American version of Thanksgiving with fun family, food, and lots of travel this past weekend... especially as our first major holiday together since being married.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Littlest Things, the Greatest Memories

It’s always amazing to me how the littlest things can evoke the strongest memories. The “Meijer” price tag sticker on a body wash container I brought with me to Tanzania made me smile every.single.time I saw it, for months. Despite not fully appreciating Walmart here in the States, even bags from said location sent as padding with school supplies from my church were items that were kept and often used around the house – not because we didn’t have plastic bags available, but because they reminded us of bits of “home.”
(...because who is to say there wasn't a hedgehog or hippo at the manger?
Ok, maybe not a hippo, realistically... but an elephant!? ALL creatures worship Jesus right!?)
Today, as I began to pack up my Tanzanian nativity I’ve had on display this Christmas, I thought about getting slightly “softer” plastic bags to wrap the carved pieces in. But then I noticed the bags’ designs, and was instantly transported back over 4 years of memories of shopping and cooking, searching for boxes while moving houses, getting supplies and adventures, and getting yelled at  reprimanded corrected for doing things wrong in stores with friends (like holding up an overpriced imported shirt to see if it might fit me instead of going straight to the dressing room.) Shoprite, which is a South African chain officially now owned by none-other than Walmart, was our link to American foods like Pringles and European treats like Haribo gummies in Dar es Salaam. Alpha Choice was the much-tinier link in Musoma, where we could get ground chuck/beef already packaged – a dream come true for this girl who was seriously not excited about grinding her own meat! – and things like batteries and regular-sized containers of vanilla for baking when the whole town was out. And ice cream. Did I mention ice cream?

It’s a smell of burning smoke (though generally not of burning trash here in the States), a taste of coconut curry, a glimpse of various (though different) Fanta flavors at the local Burger King soda machine. A message from a Tanzanian colleague in Swahili. Walking into a job interview recently and hearing Swahili being discussed between teachers. Realizing the painting of a lake fit the background of my nativity perfectly, as many Tanzanian's lives revolve around fishing… As I sit looking out the window at so much snow, I am thankful both to be here, and to have the treasure of incredible memories that almost seem unreal at times of adored people and places in my not-too-distant past.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Homes for the Holidays

I hesitate to even post this at the risk of offending or hurting feelings. I don't mean that in the least. I'm thankful for the amazing people who have surrounded me near and far, who have enabled me to do what I've been called to do and who love me no matter what. But truth be told, the last several months of "adjusting back" haven't been easy ones. And so, in a moment of potentially awkward transparency, here's a bit of what I've been learning.

I celebrated an ├╝ber-early Thanksgiving with my extended family this past weekend, which was a huge blessing. It’s been ages since I got to join them for food-family-fun and I was glad I got to finally be there with everyone again. But as I drove to Kalamazoo and then Indiana to be with family for the weekend, I was also quite surprised to realize another set of emotions coming out – homesickness. 

Last Thanksgiving, 2013
Remember that verse about God providing family? Well, he does a really good of following through on His promises… go figure, I know. And I’m really thankful for that. But I’m also realizing I’ve established a “new normal” for holidays the past several years which looked a whole lot different than what happens here in America. Eating Thanksgiving with Australians, Dutch, Germans, Tanzanians and others over the years at tables outside with orange-dyed sweet potatoes and homemade marshmallows – this was normal. And as odd as it was sometimes, as much as I missed “home” during those times and had a love/hate relationship with the pictures my parents texted me from family gatherings… our team bonded close over these shared overseas times. We became family.

Homemade Marshmallow Making Adventures (2012)
It took a lot of perseverance (probably because the gelatin we had was very much expired)
but we were SOOO excited when it finally worked!
If I was just in the States for a short time, I’d be eating this time up. But as I know I’ll be here for a good awhile, and I know I’m not headed back to the “other” family God has generously provided… and as I know things there will go on without me (as they should) and I get to be here… sometimes I’m surprised at the amount of emotion and “missing-ness” I feel for the people in Musoma. 

I’m realizing that with all the changes, with all the “new normals” I’ve experienced and become used to, that with each event there are things I get to incorporate from my life overseas and my experiences there with my new, reestablishing life here in the States. The things that worked here, didn’t work there – so adjustments needed to be made.

Christmas 2012 and 2013

I know now how to celebrate Christmas when it doesn't feel like it. I know how to bond together with people and make it work, make it super-special, because that's the only way it will happen. I know how to go caroling with santa hats and scarves in 80 degree weather with a chance of lake fly flurries, and how to make sure all the singles have a family to spend Christmas morning with. Friday night advents with my whole community, culminating in a Christmas movie, are my new norm.

But now that I'm here, I'm surrounded by people busy doing their own things with their own families that have their own traditions, and I'm not sure how I fit in. Not that they don't want me around... but I'm certainly not "needed." I'll be moving house two weeks before Christmas, so even decorating is a bit tricky. And I'm suddenly trying to remember why these long-dreamed-for white flakes falling from the sky are so.insanely.cold. (Apparently my "fond memories of White Christmases" in Musomaland were dreamed in a bit warmer temps?) The most special memories and traditions I've created with others don't seem to have a place, and I'm not even sure what should be special this year. Besides, perhaps, a white Christmas, which will be far away yet again as I head to Florida to celebrate the season with family.

So as I go into this season, I’m thankful for the many homes – and families – God has provided in cities, states, and countries wide around the world. I am grateful for the experiences and cultures I’ve been a part of. But I’m also realizing just how confusing it is to take bits and pieces of cultures and traditions that have taken up residence in my heart, and make them work in a way here that makes sense. Especially when I’ve not been able to physically bring friends or family members on the journey with me there and back. And so I remember that it is an honor and privilege to cling to Jesus even more, as He has been with me all along the way and understands it all through the bigger picture… and promises peace for my transient soul.