“Where you going for the holidays?” is a pretty standard question this time of year. Staying put, going back to where roots are, or going someplace new. It’s one of the three for those no longer living in their homeland. I’m going back to the Chicagoland area, back to where I’m from. It’s the place where I’ve spent many of my holidays, but it’s not the only place I’ve been this time of year.
My first trip outside my hometown was to visit relatives in the Italian Alps. The year was 1978 and I was twelve at the time.
Thirteen years later placed me in Delhi, India for Christmas in 1991 while travelling around the world for a year. It was lonely, warm and weird. I made up for it a week later at New Year’s in Bangkok with a table full of Danes.
That led to Christmas 1992 in Denmark. I was dating one of those Danes I met in Bangkok and it led to a memorable Christmas in Jutland a year later. The tree (my first real one) didn’t get decorated till the 24th. Then after dinner real candles were lit and the family and I held hands and danced around it. Unforgettable. New Year’s was equally fun in Copenhagen.
The next “foreign” holiday season was in 1994 on another continent; Africa. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco and spent it with other volunteers in the Sahara Desert in the southwest of the country. Exotic as it might sound, the bus ride down was a real puke fest for the locals who weren’t so used to travelling. Imagine that stench beneath the desert sun while bouncing along in a rickety fully packed bus with the driver’s assistant passing out plastic puke bags.
It was Christmas in Seattle and New Year’s in British Columbia in 1999. I was living on the Mexican border in Texas and met with a different gal way up there in the Northwest.
The turn of the century came and it was a new country again with a new woman again; my wife. The year was 2001 and we spent our first full holiday season together in her homeland and the country where I was living – Estonia.
After that it was another new land – Luxembourg – in 2004 or 2005. We spent quite a few holiday seasons in the Grand Duchy at the four different residences where we lived.
Then things got a bit wacky.
In 2008, we were living in Eritrea in the Horn Of Africa. Not much was going thanks to a shortage of just about everything and all the other flaws of a dictatorship, so we hightailed it to Zanzibar for New Year’s. That provided slightly better memories and choices of food and things to see and do.
2009 was another escape from Eritrea. We fled to New York state for a Christmas ski trip, staying in a small old cottage in Lake Placid.
We road-tripped to Hungary in 2012 with a stop in Vienna on Christmas Eve followed by New Year’s with our Hungarian friend in her homeland.
And there’s that word home again. As I said, that’s where my sons and I are going this week, home to where my roots are. It might not be as exotic or intriguing as other places I have been, but it still keeps calling me back and brings to mind that song by Chris Rea, only we’ll be flying home for Christmas.
By Dan Franch, December 2015