Ten of my last 12 Christmases have been spent in a small Muslim country called Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. While there are some pretty obvious downsides to spending the holiday in Djibouti (especially being so far away from family), if I’m being totally honest, there are some upsides, too.
Mainly, it’s the perfect excuse to skip some out on some of the seasonal stuff that I’ve always found a little annoying. For example, tinsel. I’m not sure who invented tinsel but I can’t think of one good thing about it. It’s just a giant mess. It gets in the way of enjoying a Christmas tree, it gets stuck on pets and in hair, and it ends up in blobs either on the tree or clogging the vacuum cleaner.
Here are some more holiday traditions that I’m okay with skipping this year:
1. Life-sized, Plastic, Creepy Nativity Scenes
I don’t miss seeing Mary and Joseph lit from behind and staring down into a manger with baby Jesus in a neighbor’s yard. Often these plastic figurines are garish with chipped paint and beady eyes. I love the Christmas story. I believe in it. I just don’t miss seeing it played out with large glowing figurines.
2. Elf on a Shelf
I did not even hear about Elf on a Shelf until years after his debut. I had to ask a Facebook friend what all the hype was about. She suggested I Google it. “Toilet paper the house and blame the elf. Wrap iPads in plastic wrap and have the elf do flour snow angels on them.” Thanks for the suggestions, but I don’t have time to toilet paper my house or to clean it up. I also don’t have an iPad. They’re expensive, if I did have one I don’t think I would cover it in flour. I can barely remember to keep carpool dates, sign homework sheets, or set the alarm to wake up on time for, well, anything. Keeping track of an elf is way beyond me. I understand that the Elf brings happiness to many families and that’s great. We just don’t need to be one of them.
Saying “Happy Holidays” in lieu of “Merry Christmas,” is not persecution. Are you being killed or beaten or fired or divorced because of your faith? Are you kept from worshipping at the site of your choice? No? Then you’re not being persecuted. Enjoy your holiday and your freedom.
What would I possibly miss about this musty plant? The way it’s constantly hitting tall folks in the head? The way it forces you to spend the whole night maneuvering your way around the party to avoid the creepies, while simultaneously trying to direct the man of your dreams in that direction? Or I am supposed to miss the constant surveillance it forces me to put on my teenage daughter and her boyfriend? It’s just exhausting. All around, no thanks.
5. Advent Activities
We have a wooden snowman with 25 boxes. Each box contains a scrap of paper with a verse on it from the Christmas story and a clue. The clue leads my kids to a surprise. A cookie, a coin, a lollipop, a pack of gum. I remember to put out the surprises approximately one out of every four days. My kids wake me up to remind me when I forget and when I do remember, I am met with hearty congratulations. I would be really, really terrible at advent activities. If putting out a coin is a challenge some days, I would fail even more miserably at a craft or a fancy event. I’m all about keeping it simple.
6. Gingerbread Houses
Truth? I love gingerbread houses. They smell so darn good. But I don’t really love building them or letting them sit around until they are hard and inedible. I like eating everything that goes into them, the gingerbread and the frosting and the gumdrops and the red hots, so much that they never actually make it into the form of a house.
7. Christmas Sweaters
Who decided blinking lights belonged on sweaters? Or 3D reindeer faces? Or Santa’s face plastered across the chest? And, more importantly, why? Thankfully, it’s usually 90 degrees on Christmas in Djibouti and even though that feels cold to us, it is not cold enough to merit a Christmas sweater. Though I would argue it is never, anywhere, cold enough to pull out a Christmas sweater.
Pressure to buy the perfect gift. Pressure to feign gratefulness for the scary Christmas sweater. Pressure to do Elf on a Shelf. Pressure to bake stunningly beautiful and delicious cookies. Pressure to not eat them or to burn off all calories if they are eaten. Pressure to throw a Christmas party or to attend a plethora of Christmas parties, wearing a brand new dress I can’t afford to each one.
Sure, I still do feel some pressure. I want to give good gifts to my children. I want to provide delicious food for my family and the guests we invite to dinner. I want to stir up the Christmas spirit in my family so that we joyfully give to the homeless families on our street and do it year round. But the pressure is significantly reduced and most of the pressure I feel comes from myself, not every storefront, commercial, classroom or parent.
Many families, including my own, are heavy on traditions but when we boil down the holiday to a core tradition, I think it’s safe to say it is: “time with people we love.”
So when my kids say something like, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could teleport so we could be in Djibouti and with Grandpa and Grandma on Christmas?” I realize that this one, beautiful tradition trumps all the annoying ones.
I would gladly don a Christmas sweater, put an elf on a shelf, let my husband snog me beneath the mistletoe, and even gaze at a plastic nativity scene … if it meant I could spend the holiday with our extended family.
Image source: Rachel JonesMore On