I went to college six states away for an adventure. Despite my need for change, I remained close to family and took extraordinary measures to get home for my first Thanksgiving break. That trip included an elaborate surprise in the form of an unexpected snowstorm and required several sets of friends to assist me along my journey.
The following year, too poor to make the trek and too in love to leave my boyfriend, we stayed behind and hosted Thanksgiving in his apartment. Friends left dorm rooms for a great slumber party. We accidentally set the sweet-potato casserole on fire. We pulled out the sleeper sofa and piled our college friends on top for late-night movies. We had a blast. It marked the beginning of a new tradition: “Friends-giving.”
When we found ourselves married and overseas just four years later, celebrating our holidays with new friends not only felt doable, it felt beautiful. For Thanksgivings, we introduced our Turkish friends to mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie (made possible by imported cans). On Christmas Day, when life went on as usual in the crowded streets outside, our little team talked about Jesus’ birth around a potted pine decorated with homemade ornaments.
A decade of crafting memories with surrogate family granted us two unexpected gifts:
1) It allowed us to focus on the meaning of our celebration, rather than be distracted by family tradition, drama, or expectations.
2) It helped us deepen our friendships and the community with whom we did life.
So here I am, years and years later, with the option to travel to see blood relatives over Thanksgiving; I am instead researching homes to rent for our sixth annual “Friends-giving.” Our group has been renting cabins in the Rocky Mountains over Thanksgiving and watching each other’s kids grow bigger and our hearts closer. Some years, we forgo the big dinner all together. Last year, we ordered from Dickey’s BBQ. There have been times when we have all been too financially strapped to do anything but sled, play games, and sit in the hot tub. The poorest year for us all, we negotiated to take better photos for the owner in exchange for a lower rate!
There is a loss in living far from cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Whether an ocean or a vast continent separates us, the holiday phone call never gets easier. My family is close, and the distance is something we have reluctantly learned to endure. My husband’s family is not close, and the phone call is a painful reminder of an emotional distance that existed long before the physical.
In the place of these precious relatives, we have given our children surrogate cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. We have curated a family of teammates, neighbors, and friends. We have forged memories and new traditions with the family we have been given. All along, I sense, we have truly been home for the holiday.
Question to consider: What are some of the new traditions your family has forged as a result of living cross-culturally?