Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy (American) Thanksgiving

Happy American Thanksgiving everybody! Yes, I do have to specify "American" because Canadians have their own Thanksgiving and it was a month ago. When you live an expat life and have expat friends from other countries you learn about and celebrate lots of different holidays. We have celebrated Chinese New Year, PNG Independence, the Queen's birthday, and yes even Canadian Thanksgiving. 

We not only celebrate other nation's holidays we often adjust the ways or even the days we spend our American holidays. 

I remember having to teach classes on Christmas day when we lived in China and it was really weird and sad to me then. Now most of our holidays are not really that big of a deal and I probably would put no effort at all into celebrating them if we did not have children. When you live in a different country with a different culture it is very hard to maintain the traditions of your own culture even if just for a few special days a year. You just can't mold everyone into your thinking about how you want to spend certain days. And there are times that really important circumstances make it impossible to celebrate in the way you normally would. Just like the fourth of July this year when I was in the middle of making stars and stripes cookies and I heard the death wail coming from the trees behind my house. We ended up attending a funeral and not celebrating America's independence that day.

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that always has to be adjusted here because the star of Thanksgiving itself…the turkey, is absent. In fact, most of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes are absent, but we celebrate anyway because our kids need to know where they come from and the stories and traditions of their home culture. 

This year, we will be celebrating with our coworkers on Saturday. John Michael was invited to go with most of the Hewa village into the jungle to hunt for wild fowl eggs (yes, I see the irony of egg hunting on Thanksgiving).  He left on Wednesday and spent two nights in a lean-to shelter he and a friend made when they reached the top of the mountain. He ate grub worms for Thanksgiving while the girls and I stayed home and ate popcorn. 

We were not sad or disappointed. It is just the way it is. 

I frequently like to give advice for people planning to go into missions, and I think this is a big one. Learn to go with the flow on all holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. These are often hard days on any missionary anyway since you are not with your family on days that you normally would be, and if you set your expectations too high trying to create the same atmosphere and feelings you would at home, then you are probably going to be disappointed and depressed. 

This is actually huge for husbands and wives especially. When you live in the middle of the jungle it is really just too ridiculous to expect your spouse to go all out for you on these occasions. Because a romantic candle lit dinner is only going to draw the bugs closer to your food and your face. Talk about it beforehand and agree to celebrate on breaks when you are out or plan small special things for that day in the tribe. And whatever you do, recognize that any small gift or event from your significant other took at least 5 times the effort and energy to accomplish in the middle of the jungle than it would if you were in civilization. 

Find ways to celebrate and spend these special days within the boundaries and capabilities of your new home. Create new fun traditions with what you have and use furloughs to let kids truly experience their own national holidays and the ways they are typically celebrated. 

Above all, be thankful for the life that you have and the privilege to get to know so many other cultures and celebrate so many holidays that you normally wouldn't. Focus on the uniqueness of your life and teach your children to appreciate that God has allowed them to experience things that most people won't ever get the chance to experience.

And whenever possible, wear party hats. 

That is all. 

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed your posts. We are spending Thanksgiving with our daughter and family home from PNG. Tony and Tara
    Sutton. Thanksgiving night we looked at the past years they and us too had in PNG. We usually spend Christmas with them in Yembi and they came to Madang for a couple weeks break in the summer. It was fun this holiday to be able to have all the familiar things we expect in USA. Yet we know it's because of those willing to live in a different culture others will hear about Jesus. Bless you and your family. It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.