Christmas Far From Home
The most wonderful time of the year? Hardly. I was doing my best to forget that Christmas was coming. Maybe if I bought no gifts, made no special food, did no decorating, we could forget that our families would be together, laughing, feasting, playing, and we were in a strange country, in a house that didn’t feel like ours, alone on Christmas day.
“Let’s go sightseeing Christmas day,” I said to Davy as that first Christmas approached.
I scoured Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet, and we decided to travel to some Mayan ruins several hours away. When we shared our plans with some friends, they told us about a cabin near the ruins. “Stay overnight so you don’t have to do all that driving in one day,” they suggested. “And stay two nights. It’s not worth all that packing and driving for one night.” We were delighted that the cabin was available on Christmas night and reserved it.
As we began stockpiling supplies, I wished for the stash of camping gear we’d left behind in Pennsylvania. We borrowed an ice chest and a lantern. I made a pan of cinnamon rolls and put some other foodstuffs in the ice chest, packing lots of ice around everything since there was no refrigeration or electricity at the cabin.
We had been warned to find the cabin while it was still light, and we soon understood why. After several hours on dirt roads, we snaked down the side of the mountain, skidding on the wet gravel, wondering if our Forerunner would get us back out again. We found the cabin, tucked in the fork of two rushing rivers, white with rapids. We had to shout above the roar of the water. We crossed the creek separating us from the cabin, balancing totes, suitcases, and children as we jumped from rock to rock.
I fried strips of marinated chicken breast and slices of onions and peppers over a single gas burner, and we assembled chicken fajitas for our Christmas supper. When the sun dipped behind the surrounding mountains, we lit the lantern and read books in its glow.
The next day we hiked, swam, grilled chicken and burgers over the fire, and had the best Christmas ever.
We’ve often talked of returning to that cabin. Other interferences—an almost-due baby, a promise to teach Bible school the week after Christmas, and special Christmas visitors—have prevented us.
I realized my children will one day grow up and remember their childhood Christmases. I did not want them to feel gypped out of holiday celebrations since we were far from extended family, so I began to think about traditions we could start that would become meaningful to our little family.
· Books. The beginning of December, I pull out the Christmas picture books from their hiding place to be enjoyed. Sally Clarkson said she would slide their family’s Christmas picture books into 25 manila envelopes and pull one out each day to use as a countdown to Christmas. This year I wrapped our books, and the children loved that.
· Memorization. I pick out a few songs and a poem or some verses for the girls to memorize. As they get older, I think it would be fun to present the songs and verses to others, but so far we’ve just had private programs.
· Baking. Davy doesn’t like cookies with icing, but when Christmas time comes, we make a big batch of frosted cookies. I color sugar and shredded coconut with red and green food coloring, and we use them to decorate the cookies. These cookies make up the bulk of our Christmas baking, but Davy appreciates if I make one or two “good” kinds too.
· Giving. Once our baking is finished, we pile the cookies onto plates and take them around to our ever-growing list of neighbors. So far we’ve kept the plates simple – we just slide them into a plastic bag. This year I would like to find a decorative verse for the girls to color and add to the plates.
· Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve we drink hot chocolate and eat cinnamon rolls while Davy reads the Christmas story by candlelight. We use a beautiful picture book with the text taken straight from Luke 2. Then we open gifts. So far we’ve kept this fairly simple with one or two gifts per child.
· Christmas Day. Our Christmas days have varied so much that we don’t have a tradition. We usually host some guests—sometimes the VSers that didn’t go home, sometimes people from church who don’t have family plans. Each year has been different.
Throughout the year, our meals are influenced by the Belizean and Mexican cultures, but on Christmas I want some good old American food—chicken that was soaked in a tender-quick brine, mashed potatoes, rolls, salad, and something delicious for dessert. My mom would have made pies, but pie crusts scare me so badly that I’ve often made some type of cheesecake, a real treat for us.
With some of our own traditions in place, I no longer dread the coming holidays. We still wish we could join our families on Christmas Day, but we cherish the memories that our little family can make together.