The Wanderlust Diaries

The Problem with Christmas


I do not know what to do about Christmas.

Christmas should be fairly straightforward. Millions of Americans manage to do the traditional holiday thing every year. I checked. According to statistics some 94 million households (79%) will display a Christmas tree in their homes this year. This was in a survey conducted on behalf of the American Christmas Tree Association. (Yeah, there is an association for Christmas trees in the United States.)

I also found online a number indicating that an estimated 20 million households will decorate their homes with Christmas lights. I have no idea how many people hang wreaths and stockings and put out Christmas cookies, but I would expect it to be a lot. Likely millions.

I have never purchased or set up a Christmas tree. I have never purchased nor decorated with Christmas lights. I have never owned a Christmas wreath. To my knowledge I have never independently (i.e. not “helping” my mom) made cookies.

Does that seem weird? Probably. Especially as I serve overseas as a U.S. diplomat, one that could possibly be called upon to present or discuss U.S. traditions, especially at times of major holidays.

Then again the Internet also told me that more than 99 million Americans regularly drink beer while 100 million Americans regularly drink coffee. I drink neither. So, I guess that means I am not exactly the average American.

Until this past week I had never purchased Christmas stockings. Now C and I have a set of matching stockings – hers is white with a red C on it, mine is red with a white T on it. They both have pom poms.

I am not sure where I will hang them. We are still living in a hotel. There is no fireplace. I think I will hang them from the TV console in the living room. Yeah, I guess that will work.
But we will have no Christmas tree. On Christmas morning we will likely head to my sister’s home. That afternoon we will fly to Florida to visit my aunt and uncle. We crash Christmas.

I do not have a track record of celebrating Christmas as an adult. I have spent many years overseas and even when in South Korea or Japan, I chose to travel elsewhere for Christmas. I liked to be on the road, most preferably somewhere very warm. I have spent Christmas in places Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Myanmar. You know, those really Christmas-y places.

Then I had C. The first Christmas in Mexico we stayed put. I had my duty week starting the day after Christmas through New Year’s Day. Both C and I were sick as dogs with horrendous colds and ears, nose and throat infections. The second year we traveled to my sister’s in Virginia for Christmas and Florida with my aunt and uncle for New Year’s. We also came down with horrendous colds and ENT infections. I hope that will not become our holiday tradition!

So I am challenged first with my own lack of experience. Then there is also C’s birthday, which falls just 3 weeks after Christmas. I know for those who have birthdays even closer to Christmas that this can be challenge. As a parent, I feel this concentrates the gifts a bit too much for C. Last year I made an attempt to buy her only five gifts for Christmas and five for her birthday and I gave them to her just once a week. Along with the concentration of family gifts to her around Christmas, and given I also celebrate the Lunar New Year (and I have since I was a child—a tradition my mother started), this led to approximately 15 weeks of presents.

I thought it a great way to celebrate the season and not overwhelm my young daughter. My sister thought it was really weird. Or at the very least there is something rather wrong with me.

Yet, I wanted to do the same thing this year. Like at Halloween, C is starting to understand the idea of Christmas. She knows words like “Santa” and “reindeer” and “Christmas tree.” But it is not cemented in her brain. If her reaction at the mall Santa photo display is any indication, she is not particularly fond of the man in the red suit. Not even the Frozen theme complete with fake falling snow and a plush Olaf picture just before meeting the big man could convince C that Santa was benevolent enough to sit near. So it is still my advantage to start my own holiday/birthday traditions, whatever those might be.

Except this year I am also challenged by our impending move to Shanghai, which occurs 4.5 weeks after Christmas and 1.5 weeks after C’s birthday. Our actual pack out dates will fall just a few days after C turns the big THREE. By then I have to have decided what all is going in the suitcases that arrive with us, the Unaccompanied Baggage (UAB) that will arrive anywhere from the same day to a few weeks after our arrival or our Household Effects (HHE) that will be delivered to us China 4-12 weeks after our arrival. The HHE will be packed up and shipped with our items packed up in Mexico. Yes, they will be united with those items that have been sitting in a warehouse somewhere since July.

So I gave C one Christmas present already, in mid-November. Her father sent her a scooter and helmet that arrived this past week. We agreed that earlier was fine so she would have a chance to practice riding it before it would be packed up. She is super excited to have the scooter, especially as Penny, the little girl in the Disney movie Bolt, has a scooter. I am happy because I heard that just about every kid in Shanghai has a scooter.

The plan is for C to receive presents from other family members on Christmas along with a stocking with little goodies from me. The other three gifts I have for her will be given before or after Christmas, when I feel like it. We will celebrate her birthday before departure but the gifts will be opened in Shanghai. It may not be the best solution, but it’s what I’m going to do.

Maybe two years from now, as we prepare to depart Shanghai in January 2017, I will have figured out something better? Maybe.

At least we have our Vogmasks for Shanghai. Merry Christmas to us!