Who says you have to go home for the holidays?
As a child, the holiday that really stuck out for me was Thanksgiving. Unlike most families in the USA, Thanksgiving at our house was a time of male bonding. Our mother, no doubt in need of a break from us, would leave town to attend the Oregon Bahá’í Winter School for the four days her husband and three sons had off.
Although I have fond memories of those early days, things really got interesting after my brothers moved out and my father and I were left to our own devices. Neither of us cared much for the traditional turkey; we viewed the holiday as an excuse to dine out and go to the movies.
I can still recall my first experiences with Japanese and Mexican food, fine Italian dining, and my favorite chocolate pudding at King’s Table Buffet. It felt like I was traveling the world through menus and I relished being on that culinary journey with my dad.
When I graduated high school, I began expat life on my own and consequently lacked the funds to take trips home for traditional winter holidays. Instead, I took them in-country with friends, traveling to Bethlehem for Christmas when I lived in Israel, attending midnight mass with the faithful on Christmas Eve as an undergrad in Puerto Rico, and partying on New Year’s Eve in Port-au-Prince with my Haitian classmates.
Since I often visited Oregon in the summertime and high school class reunions coincided with the Fourth of July, my family adopted this period as our annual time of gathering and started our own holiday traditions.
In the home we grew up in, my brothers and I brought together our own families to catch up, swap stories, and grill on the barbecue. These experiences came with all the love and complications of family returning to the nest, but without the hardships of inclement weather, canceled flights, and the burden of packing warm clothing.
After Savvy and I married, we continued to make the annual summer
pilgrimage to southern Oregon. Despite the hardships of traveling with three kids, we soldier on in this tradition today. Since ours are the youngest bunch of grandkids and we travel the greatest distance, we get first dibs on staying at the house while my siblings and their progeny must seek accommodations in the town’s various motels.
Whatever we do, we’ll do it together
Despite my family’s indifference to December holidays, Christmas still holds special meaning for my wife’s family. When we traveled home two years ago after the birth of our boys, we made a point of being with Savvy’s family on Christmas Day. Her extended family gathered at a cousin’s home for a huge fusion feast of “traditional” holiday fare and Cambodian standards like prohok (pickled fish) with fresh vegetables, lemongrass chicken skewers, and stir fried pad siew.
The children ran from room to room, played games, ate too many sweets, and eagerly eyed the piles of presents under the Christmas tree. Reina enjoyed herself despite only recognizing two of her cousins.
When everyone began opening presents, Savvy and I worried Reina would feel left out since we hadn’t thought to get her a present; we were overwhelmed by caring for her newborn brothers. Our fears were unfounded, as she discovered several presents waiting for her under the tree.
This year, we will stay in Beijing for the December holiday season. Perhaps
some friends will invite us over to celebrate with them (hint hint). If not, we’ll
take our brood out for a nice dinner – maybe Indian or Korean. Who knows? Whatever we do, we’ll do it together.
As for another big trip home during the winter holidays… well, once every decade or so is plenty for me. I’d rather wait for the summer and pack fewer clothes.
Illustration: Crystal Liu