By Katie Holland
November is in full swing and December is just around the corner. The balmy Florida weather I currently exist in is becoming, well, slight less balmy. With the weather’s shift comes the hum of holiday season. All the office conversations revolve around “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” and checking calendars to plan for Christmas break.
I am a lover of the Holidays. Fall and winter are my favorite seasons; I love all the decorating, baking, and gathering that happens in these months. However, there is something else here too, something a little less thankful, a little less jolly. There’s a sadness, an ache. There’s a longing for what my holidays used to be.
I grew up in Eastern Europe, Romania and Hungary, where my parents were missionaries. That is where I fell in love with this time of year. My “normal thanksgiving” was the hilarious stories that came from trying to live out a distinctly American holiday half way around the world. Normal was avoiding the weird orange mushy stuff because I didn’t understand the concept of sweet potatoes. Normal was gathering with friends rather than family.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving stories was the year we bought a twenty-four kilogram Turkey. See, Turkeys are not easy to come by in Hungary. However, this year there was someone at our church who knew someone, who knew a turkey farmer. So all the missionaries got their turkeys from him. While I’m sure that would be super exciting in the States – farm-to-table Thanksgiving? Whoo! – it was less than exciting for us. Turns out the Turkey was comically enormous weighing in at over forty pounds.
It comes time to defrost this beast. So we dump it into an empty trashcan filled with water and stick it in the shower for a day. It finally thaws and my Mom goes to cook it forgetting that while this bird is comically big, European ovens are comically small. After much sawing and hacking the bird is less whole than it once was, but is now cooking away. That year we were eating leftover Turkey for actual months.
Why does this story matter? It really doesn’t, except that I love it. I could tell countless more of strange Thanksgiving traditions. Or even more about my favorite things about European Christmas like the Christmas market on the walking streets of Budapest and my favorite journal and potter stands. I could tell you about the lights shaped like stars and snowflakes that lined the streets where I lived. I’d tell you about sitting on the lion statue or ice-skating until the blisters had blisters every Christmas Eve.
The special Holiday memories, at least mine, were made when I was in those growing up years. I think for many of us our ideas of what holidays should be, look like, and feel like are shaped when we’re kids. Because of that, my holidays have become bittersweet.
Now I spend Thanksgiving with thirty family members in Kentucky. The funny stories now revolve around people and games rather than weird food and cross-cultural experiences. I LOVE our family thanksgiving, but loving where I am doesn’t mean I don’t miss where I was.
While I love the new traditions we’ve formed, there’s a potent ache and longing for what used to be. It’s the ache we voice each year by saying “it doesn’t really feel like Christmas.” It’s a longing that permeates much of the TCK life. Longing for what was and will never be again.
It sounds dramatic, but it’s real. I’ll likely never spend another Christmas in Budapest or another Thanksgiving at the Gibson house. Those memories live only in my head because I don’t get to return to the places where they happened or the people that were there.
Has this longing ruined my holidays? Absolutely not! I am so grateful for varied experiences and the knowledge of what it looks like to celebrate outside of my currant context. If anything it makes the holidays more special, more sacred. Sacred, because this longing mirrors another, more important longing.
My experience of holidays awakes a longing that reflects that this is not my true home. This is not my perfect family. The holidays awake my longing for the new heaven and the new earth where there will be no more goodbyes, no more missing what was, no more unfulfilled ache. And so the holidays give me hope. Hope of a time when we are all completely whole, no missing pieces, no broken places.
That hope breeds joy, a joy that is most potent at the holidays.
Katie Holland grew up as a missionary kid (MK) in Romania and Hungary before attending Covenant College in Chattanooga, TN. Post graduation she relocated to Orlando, FL to work on the MK2MK team at Cru’s headquarters where she just joined staff. She is passionate about ministering through shared experience. Things she loves include: studying scripture, scarf and boot weather, her niece Isla Noël, and coffee, which is a vital part of her daily life.