December 9, 2012
It’s the holidays again. And once more we are 10,000 miles away from our loved ones. That is a fact that lots of people who recommend retiring abroad sometimes fail to tell you. The holidays can be lonely and tough to get through.
Holidays are a tough time no matter where you are. Years ago, when I worked for a psychiatric hospital, I was on duty in the psychiatric emergency admitting room on Christmas Eve. It was always the busiest, and craziest, day and evening of the year.
The holidays are a time when everyone is supposed to be happy, celebrating with their loved ones, exchanging gifts and hugs, and lots of love. The problem is that lots of people (a majority?) may not be so jovial during this time. They may not be around people who love them or whom they even want to hug. And, especially during these current times, they may not have loads of extra cash to give everyone on their list that “perfect present”. So the holidays can be a difficult time for many.
And so it is with those of us who have retired abroad. I’ll turn to my wife and give her a hug on Christmas morning, but my children and grandchildren will be far away. And there will be a huge empty feeling that only they could have filled. So how does one cope spending the holidays on another continent from our loved ones?
On Thanksgiving we had 12 people for dinner who had come up to Chiang Mai to celebrate Loy Kratong (the Thai festival of lights). I talked to one son who had just cooked up a deep fried turkey and was heading over to a fellow Marine’s house for a big dinner, and another who was having friends over for roast venison and Dungeness crab that he had “hunted and gathered” himself. And we talked about the many Thanksgiving dinners we had shared together when they were growing up. Both a happy and a sad conversation.
I’ll wake up Christmas morning (it will be Christmas Eve back home) and Skype all the family members. I’ll tell them how much I love them and miss them and we’ll probably end up kissing the computer monitor in lieu of real hugs and kisses. My Christmas gifts to those back home will have been gift cards from Amazon and EBay.
Instead of the traditional Christmas dinner with the family like we had for so many years, we are going to make a get together here with our friends. They are all in the same boat as we are, far from “home”. We’ll have a sit-down American meal. We will have stuffed chicken and lots of mashed potatoes. Someone will probably bring a home-made pie or fruit cake (I am one of the few people on Earth who really likes fruit cake.) And we’ll give a toast to all the loved ones we are thinking about.
But being here during the holidays isn’t all sad and depressing. There are lots of benefits to being here at this time.
- We won’t ever have to eat turkey.
- Although I love Christmas music (sang in the church choir when I was a teenager) we won’t have to listen to Christmas music 24/7 on the radio. If I hear Santa Clause is Coming to Town one more time I think I will scream.
- No worries about missing the “Black Friday” sales, or feeling guilty about letting the economy crash because I am not spending enough money.
- Don’t need to try to figure out what the “perfect present” is for anyone, and I especially won’t be getting any neck ties as Christmas gifts. I haven’t worn a neck tie since I moved here.
- Won’t get and won’t have to send any Christmas cards. Don’t you just hate those cards from people who have no message to tell you except, “Merry Christmas from Mike”. I got one of those once and I know at least 15 Mikes.
- Sometimes the “Merry Christmas from Mike” message is accompanied by one of those once a year form letters from someone you haven’t spoken to in decades telling you how well they and their family did this year. Won’t be getting many of those.
- Won’t have to say “Happy Holidays” just to be politically correct. I’m not a Christian but I still like to wish people a “Merry Christmas”.
- Won’t have to wish for a “White Christmas”. When I was growing up in New York, if it snowed, the snow turned grey before hitting the grown, and then it turned black. Here, Christmas will be a beautiful emerald green.
- Won’t be tempted to go to Midnight Mass. I’m 66 years old. If I am not in bed by 10pm the next day really sucks.
- And best of all, I won’t have to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” ever again.
But even though I am half a world away from my loved ones, I still haven’t lost the Christmas spirit. This is a good time to think of all the good things that have happened to me. And one of those good things is to have the opportunity to live here in Thailand. I don’t have to deal with all the trappings around the holidays that obscure their real meaning. I can just think of the good stuff, my family, my loved ones, and the possibility that we really someday could have “peace on earth”.
Come to think of it, I am “home for the holidays”.
For those of you who celebrate, Merry Christmas. For all others Happy Holidays.
May 2013 be a good, healthy, and happy one for you and yours.
P.S. If you are interested in hearing what I sound like talking about retiring to Thailand, check out ThaiGirlTalk where I am interview by two lovely bloggers.