Today I was sitting at my desk looking at my little collection of small gifts from all over the world from friends and family – a tiny gold bird from Ghana, a handwritten postcard from my favorite manor in England, a red and black Russian nesting doll, a special sign from California, a bright blue flower from Sevilla’s Feria de Abril, and a hand-painted boomerang from Australia. I’m lucky to have jet-setting friends all over the world, but it means that half of my favorite people are always thousands of miles away. The holiday season sometimes makes that distance seem even longer and the twinge of homesickness slightly sharper.
Barcelona’s holiday lights have been switched on for a week now, so I’ve been feeling extra-festive. But the holidays are always a little tricky abroad. Living in another country often feels like you’re being tugged in two totally opposite directions all the time (check out Christine in Spain’s great post on The Expat Dilemma). It’s tough balancing out how much I like living in Barcelona with all the people I love here…and how nice it would be to live in California near all the people I love there. The holidays are one of those times that makes it achingly obvious that there’s no clear or easy answer as to where I’d rather be.
Thanksgiving is a great chance to bring together, if not all the people, at least some of the fun and traditions from one country to share. It’s a pretty easy sell for my friends here – sharing a delicious meal with your friends is a pretty universally liked thing. Last year, I hosted a big dinner for friends from all over the world, including Spain, Turkey, France, Germany, South Korea, and the U.S. Everyone went round the table and said what they were thankful for, and we finished off the night by hitting the clubs until 6 a.m. to go out with a bang.
This year, I had dinner with a small group of American and Catalan friends with equal success. Part of the fun of sharing traditions and holidays from your home country is mixing and mashing them up with the local culture. This year, we had butifarra sausages instead of a roast turkey, and poured creamy aioli instead of gravy on our roasted potatoes.
But it goes beyond just food. Verbalizing things that you’re grateful for made us acknowledge how fortunate we are to travel and meet all kinds of fascinating people. At my ‘Friendsgivings’, everyone has been thankful for similar things – friends, family, travel, and getting to live somewhere they love – even when we’re from wildly different places and very different backgrounds.
Sharing a tradition that’s so different also opens up a fun conversation about some of the just plain ridiculous things about each culture. Black Friday sales? Madness…but have you seen the fighting grannies in the rebajas crowds in Spain? Over-the-top American holiday celebrations? Those were deemed silly, but fun. And the Catalan holiday tradition of the Caga Tio, the grinning log that poos out presents, took the crown for the weirdest holiday tradition. Seeing your “normal” from a different perspective is hilariously eye-opening from both sides, and re-thinking what’s normal is really one of the best rewards of travel.
So while celebrating the holidays abroad is definitely bittersweet, it’s lovely to sit down and recognize that even though it’s hard to live so far away from your friends and family, making new friends abroad and creating your own mixed-up international traditions is a great way of bringing a tiny piece of home with you on your travels.
And it doesn’t take up any of your baggage weight allowance either.
Happy holidays, everyone!