Living abroad means that you might spend Christmas far away from family and friends. Even if new countries and new traditions might be very different from what you are used to, it all comes down to sharing with others.
The first Christmas we celebrated abroad was in Canada, with an overwhelming amount of colored lights, decorations and music compared to Norway.
– Wow, is it really possible! I thought while watching inflatable Santas, elves and reindeer singing and dancing on front lawns in the December darkness.
But even if it was kind of shocking, I got in great moods, smiling and humming during the darkest weeks before Christmas. Not so bad after all.
One evening the doorbell rang. My husband went out to see who it was. We lived in a new development in St. John’s and there were only two finished houses in Spruce Meadows so far.
–Who was it? I asked kind of curious.
–Oh, it was just a lady and her son asking if we would buy some homemade Christmas ornaments, he replied.
But before he even finished the sentence, he realized that they might be selling these items to get food on the table during the holidays. He spun around and ran after the small, dented car. He returned with a nice looking black and white dog made of salt dough with a Santa hat on its head.
Other people came along too, offering to shovel our driveway. Some had mounted a plough to the front of their pickup trucks, while others only brought a couple of shovels, but they made extra money before Christmas – and our driveway was cleared for snow at all times.
Old traditions – new wrapping
When we lived back home in Norway, we had two major traditions after our daughter was born; we always went to see the Nutcracker and we made gingerbread houses. So during the last years, we’ve watched performances in several places, like Houston, Katy and Anchorage.
Gingerbread houses are a big deal in the US as well and of course we had to make some huge ones, decorated with candies in smashing colors. Always a pleasure, and the Christmas spirit surrounds you, just like home.
We Norwegians are so lucky that we even have our own church away from home. The Norwegian Seamen’s Church has more than 100 churches spread around the world. It was founded already back in 1864 to help Scandinavian seamen who often had unbearable conditions and needed a place to get help and support. Today the number of Scandinavian seamen is decreasing, however the amount of expat families is increasing, so the church is still a meeting place where you can get friends, help, just someone to talk to – or a traditional Christmas service.
It’s all about sharing
When we lived in Alaska we collected warm winter clothes from the employees of the oil company, both in Texas and Norway. In addition, people could buy and give necessities like toiletries and other things the homeless in the shelters would need. We also had toy drives for children initiated by the Petroleum Club.
We are so privileged and we should really do a lot more. No matter where you’re an expat I guess there is a soup kitchen or other charity work just waiting for more hands, and I really feel that the Christmas spirit goes a couple of inches deeper when you do something to help other people.
Our neighbor in Florida had a special experience last year. He had been through tough times himself, but when he was standing behind a single mom with several kids in a grocery store who could not afford the little she had on the belt on Christmas Eve, he acted automatically. She only needed a few cents and he gave them to her before he had time to think. And she said:
– You’re really making my kids happy tonight.
He was overwhelmed and had tears in his eyes when we met him later that night.
Even if it might be difficult to know how to offer help or money in order not to hurt people’s pride,
act from your heart and do whatever you can to make their holiday season a little bit brighter.
Think about how lucky you are, take a look around you wherever you might live and see if there is something you can do. Give a little warmth from your heart. It might even be as simple as giving a hug or just a smile – or to include people you know are all alone during the holidays.
A blessed Christmas to all my readers, from Heidi
Text and photos by Heidi Nesttun-Sunde, Christmas 2014