Growing up with a Jewish mother and a Christian father, my winter holidays always looked a little different than most kids’.
My parents didn’t raise me or my brother with any religion, but they still wanted to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas with us for fun. Since one of the eight nights of Hanukkah often coincides with Christmas, many of my Christmas mornings were spent gathered around the Christmas tree opening presents while our menorah sat flickering nearby and an album called ‘Winter Dreams’ by a Native American flautist played in the background - the only ‘seasonal’ music my mother would tolerate.
As if that weren’t enough of a culture clash already, for every Christmas dinner we would either prepare and eat a feast of various types of Indian food, as my brother and I grew up vegetarian but my parents ate meat, and it was the one cuisine we all liked with an equal amount of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. This is also what we always did for Thanksgiving.
If we were feeling too lazy on Christmas or Turkey Day, we would go to a Chinese restaurant, as there were no other restaurants open on Christmas, and it’s a bit of a Jewish tradition to “go out for a Chinese” on December 25.
Spending Christmas Abroad
This year, my holidays are going to look even more different than usual. This will be my first Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah spent away from home. On the morning of each of these holidays, I will wake up not in my bed at my mom’s house, and I will not go downstairs to join my family. Instead I’ll wake up in my bunk bed in the hostel I work and live at in Barcelona, Spain.
Thanksgiving and Hanukkah definitely aren’t a thing over here, and Christmas is, but most of the festivities revolve around religion, so I probably won’t end up celebrating any of the holidays I’m used to participating in towards the end of the year, every year.
While I’m obviously sad about not spending the holidays with my family this year, I’m 100 percent aware that this is probably one of the last times in my life I can just take off and move to a different country for an indefinite period of time.
I graduated college in May, packed my whole life into a suitcase and hopped on a plane to Barcelona. I was 24 and had no job, car, pets or kids to tie me down. Several years down the line, that might not be the case.
In six or eight or 10 years, I might be the mom putting on Native American flute music and hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree while my toddler whines and smashes latkes into the carpet, and I’ll fondly reminisce about the time I moved across the world to a faraway city I loved just because I could.
If you’re like me and spending the holidays abroad for the first time, try to focus on where you are instead of where you aren’t. You might not be sitting around your family’s Christmas tree, but you might have ridden a camel in Marrakech yesterday, eaten a picnic by the Eiffel tower today, or woken up this morning gazing at the turquoise waters of Koh Phi Phi.
Enjoy your time abroad as much as possible, and make sure you have plenty of amazing stories to bring back to your family the next time you’re all together.