Twinkling lights adorning homes. Nativity scenes. Malls overloaded with garland, Santa and merriment.

That’s how I recall the holiday season in America. Nothing short of sensory overload to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”

But, the holidays in Chiang Mai? It’s an entirely different story.

Christmas Eve in Chiang Mai

There’s no snow. There’s no Santa. And, there’s definitely not a sense of an impending holiday season where we can expect to deck the halls. In fact, the only semi-holiday thing I am gifted with is a cold front that chills my jungle blood.

It’s almost easy to forget it is the holiday season, except for the barrage of Facebook posts filling my feed, displaying photos of families smiling, Christmas trees, food (oh, the food), and the seasonal sentiments.

This year as an expat in Thailand, the holiday season was hard for me. Sure, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but oddly enough, it was the one thing I craved this year. To be with family. To see homes decked out in blinking, colorful lights. To walk through a mall under an assault of commercial holiday cheer.

Thanksgiving

“I miss you,” I say over Skype to my parents, shrouded in darkness Thanksgiving Eve in Delaware. Here, it’s Thanksgiving, and there is nothing to honor it. I am at work, not with my family, for the first time ever. I don’t expect to be as emotional about it as I am, but something that Thanksgiving morning pinched me.

I want to be home. I want to be snuggled on a couch, watching football, scarfing down green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. I want to wake up to and see the bare trees and the rays of the cold winter sun jutting through. I want that comfort.

I wipe the tears from my eyes because suddenly, I am crying. I am longing for a hug from my parents. For them to just be in a room with me, instead of half-way around the world.

When I disconnect, I walk back into the office and try to shake the lonely that has wrapped its gray tentacles around me. I remind myself tonight I am getting together with friends for sushi and then going to see a movie.

“I’m starting a new tradition,” I had proudly announced to my potpourri of expat friends earlier in the month. “I can’t be with my family for Thanksgiving, so I’m starting something new with my family here.”

The best laid plans.

People get sick. People bail. Quickly, it’s me and a Leo sitting outside at a bar watching the tuk tuks putter by and the stray dogs bound up and down the pocked street.

This is not how I imagined Thanksgiving to be.

A friend comes and joins my gloom and I convince him to meet me and another friend at the movies. At least I can have a little bit of America tonight. We head to see “Catching Fire” and for a brief moment, I feel like I am back in the States, enjoying a movie.

The next week, I head to the western supermarket to buy some stuffing … just to give me a quick Thanksgiving fix. Of course, it’s terrible and I shovel two spoonfuls in my mouth before announcing it a bust and trading it for a glass of red wine with friends.

Then, Christmas happens.

Falalalala

I return from work one day to find my patio has a new addition — a strand of Christmas lights draped across the windows. Set against the jungle setting, it gives me that little tinge of home and delights me more than I expect.

Christmas lights! In Chiang Mai! Joy to the world!

Just to have that little strand of color, that little flash of America, on my patio instantly makes me feel more at home. Suddenly, Christmas is about celebrating life here. It is about accepting I am not with my family, my old friends, but with a new and beautiful life. Unlike Thanksgiving, I tell Lonely to fuck off and go Christmas Crazy.

Yes, as a Jew. Who has never once celebrated Christmas.

The week before Christmas, I turn on my Apple TV and put on a Christmas mix courtesy of iTunes Radio. I listen to it for hours as I sit outside and type. I don’t know what has gotten into me, but it makes me so stupidly happy.

Christmas in Thailand

I’ve got Christmas Fever and now I want to infect everyone with my special little virus.

It gets bad. Like, real bad.

The days before Christmas, all I can sing are Christmas songs. I have a stupid holiday smile on my face and an “I love you, man” attitude. Towards everyone. I decide Christmas Eve is all about the Eggnog. And Christmas? Hell, it’s a party with my closest at my friend’s establishment, Little Bar, on Loi Kroh.

On Christmas Eve, I invite over some Americans and we all sit outside, sipping eggnog as Christmas music blasts from my television. On Christmas  morning, I call my best friend in Vegas. Every Christmas in Vegas was spent at his house, with his family. When he picks up the FaceTime call and I see him in a car with his family, the tears start again. But, it isn’t because I am sad. It is because I am happy. I’m happy to have those memories. I’m happy to see his face, his family’s faces. I miss them, but I don’t miss that life. And, when I hang up the phone, I linger over that thought.

Thailand's version of Christmas

At night, I head to Little Bar and party. All of the ladyboys and ladies on the street have donned their best and sexiest Santa and elf attire. Barbecues sprout up on the uneven sidewalks. Carols fill the crisp night air.

It’s a Thailand Christmas.

And, I love it.

While I did learn I can’t do Thanksgiving as an expat next year, I can certainly do Christmas. It’s now my second favorite holiday, thanks to friends and my life in Chiang Mai. Even as an expat, I can get some good ol’ American cheer.

10 comments

  1. Diana,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, which made me take pause as I rode the train into Grand Central Station in New York. As my wife and I plan to begin worldwide house sitting adventures, you paint a picture which answers some questions I have had about what it might be like to be away from the U.S. and family for months at a time. Your story describing holiday feelings, with an unexpected ending has affirmed that my wife and I are on a good path to becoming expats.

    Happy New Year Diana!!

    Keep up the good work of inspiring . . .

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    1. THank you so much, Carl. Your adventure sounds amazing. I can say this — making the choice to be away from “home” was the best thing I have ever done. It has made me far more secure in who I am, far more aware and, at the end of the day, I would never want anything else than this!

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  2. Happy New Year Diana! So happy that you had such a nice time in Chiang Mai during the holidays. No matter where you are, count yourself lucky if you have people that you care about around you.
    We love that if you choose, you can easily celebrate Christmas in Thailand. The Thais are very celebratory people!

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  3. I had a hard time with the holidays this year as well. But I always try to remember myself that nostalgia and homesickness and longing and all those things are a gift, because they mean you once had something amazing. Happy New Year, dear friend!

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  4. That is pretty rad. There are some things that you just need to do to make it feel like home. Shaun made a badass cheese ball in Colombia that cost a kidney but it just felt right.

    Like

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