Four things I learned from spending Christmas far from “home”

Dec 20, 2017
By Megan Radford
Today I added up all the Christmases that I have spent away from Canada. The years that my family lived in Senegal, West Africa came first. Then there was the time we visited my grandparents in sunny Florida. After that came my years in North Africa. And finally, this will be my second Christmas visiting my husband in Bolivia. That makes 12 in total- meaning that almost half of all my Christmases have definitely not been “white”.
There are quite a few things that this unique way of life has taught me. I’ve boiled it down to four holiday lessons:
1. A white Christmas isn’t universal Many of my Canadian friends think a Christmas without snow is pretty weird. And although climate change has made that less unusual, even in the True North, winter is still part of what makes Christmas for so many.

But from the time I was seven, Christmas to me was sandy beaches, swimming till the sun went down, palm trees covered in lights, and singing Christmas carols clad in shorts and a t-shirt. If I’m honest, that’s still how I picture Christmas. When I do get a snowy Christmas, with decorated houses glinting off the snow, it seems like a kind of fairytale- the ones I only got to hear about when I was a kid.

For most of the children that World Vision works with, it’s the same story. Here in Bolivia, we’re much more likely to have a rainy Christmas than a white one. And that is a-ok with me.

This is what Christmas looked like at home with my family in Senegal- complete with a campfire and fake snow on the windows!

2. The 25th isn’t a deal-breaker If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan like me, you remember the episode where Lorelai and Rory decide to delay Christmas till they’re together. Hilarity ensues as they try to get candy cane hot chocolate long after the tinsel has been taken down.

When I lived overseas, this kind of Christmas just came with the territory. I couldn’t always get back to my parents in Halifax for Christmas, so we had a couple different versions of the Gilmore Christmas. One was in October (dubbed Christgiving) and another in February.

If we’re honest about it, none of us really knows the exact date Christ was born, so celebrating his birth at a different time simply lets us extend the joy a little longer.  
3. Presents are fun, but seeing loved ones you miss is better I will admit that I love presents- both giving and receiving. I love the physical representation of your love for someone, and the care that goes into choosing a gift.

But for the three Christmases that I was far from any family, it wasn’t presents I was thinking of. I missed the presence of my family so much that it was a physical ache. It’s why, now that I’m married, I’ve made sure that I spend Christmas with my husband no matter the cost. To me, there is simply no substitute for presence, or for the feeling I get when I see him after months apart.

And while at times I’ve chosen to be with family at a different time of the year, the Christmas joy is always the same, whenever I see them. All year round, being with my family is my very favourite thing.
4. The look on kids’ faces is the best part of Christmas Yesterday my husband and I spent an hour in the crowded Bolivian market, picking out a toy for a very special little girl. We know her mom quite well, well enough to know that she likely won’t be able to buy her little one a Christmas gift this year. So, amongst the dizzying array of dolls, kitchen sets and My Little Ponies, we carefully chose a Princess Sofia doll. Then we had it wrapped in matching princess paper, and presented it to our little friend in front of our Christmas tree. The look on her face when she tore off the wrapping, and the way she pressed the box to her lips, had me blinking back tears.

I had the same feeling at a Christmas celebration hosted by World Vision Bolivia. After the children had performed Christmas carols, they were presented with beautiful gifts of dolls and dump trucks. The little girls compared princess dolls, kissing their new toys, while the little boys grinned at their treasures and called out “Feliz Navidad” to the staff.

Watching them, I remembered being a little girl, and the feeling of magic I had opening a much-sought after gift on Christmas. The difference, of course, is that I always knew a gift was coming, and that it was coming from my parents. For these children, there is no such guarantee. Their parents are fighting just to put food on the table- gifts are simply not on the list of necessities.

I will never know why our world accepts that some children have less than others. I only know that, whenever I can, I want to be a part of balancing the scales. And at Christmas, the look on their faces is the best gift of all.
This brother and sister duo had the biggest Christmas smiles at the World Vision Bolivia party!
Your turn
If you want to be a part of that too, sponsoring a child is the best way you can help. My husband and I recently sponsored a two year-old girl here in Bolivia, and we are excited to watch her grow up. Our support will be there with her every step of the way, as we partner with her parents to ensure she has the best chance at a bright future. And, as an extra bonus, we got her a little Christmas gift to ensure this season is full of joy.
Another way you can spread joy this season is through the World Vision Canada Gift Catalogue. Each and every item is carefully chosen to bring the most value to a community. My personal favourite is the Education section, where your donation will directly contribute to ensuring children learn and grow into their full potential.
Instead of a white Christmas this year, I’m dreaming of a Christmas where every child has what they need to live life in all its fullness. What an incredible gift that would be!