Raising A Traveling Tribe:: Not Being Home For Christmas

by Tina on December 16, 2013

in family, Raising a Traveling Tribe

traveling mama christmas 2012-2

We have spent a lot of time away from our family, but there is no harder time for us than Christmas.  I thought it would get easier with the years, but after nine away from “home” the pain of being so far away has not dissipated at all.

The thing you should know about me is that I am like a kid on Christmas.  I literally cannot sleep the night before and when Christmas morning makes it’s merciful appearance, you will find me leaping from the bed and running around the house waking up the children and shouting, “It’s Christmas!!!!”

I come from a very large Greek family and we have always celebrated Christmas with as many friends and family as possible.  My mom decorates the house like the North Pole and Christmas Eve is a huge affair with a feast fit for a king.  Christmas morning is nothing short of chaos as wrapping paper flies and happy shouting can be heard for miles around.

Well, that is how Christmas used to be.  But now we live away from our family and there is only so much noise the five of us can make.  When we start to play the christmas music, a lump starts forming in my chest… all of the happy memories it conjures up only remind me that we are about to spend another Christmas away and I miss my family so much that I die a little on the inside.  I cry every year and after all these years, I don’t know any tricks to making the distance feel smaller.  Sure, there are special gifts that arrive in the mail and Skype calls but none of that can replace the warmth of a hug from my mom and sister or watching my dad assemble a toy or having all of the kids gathered around for a final theatrical reading of “The Night Before Christmas” just before they go have a massive slumber party in their Christmas pj’s and attempt to fall asleep without too much giggling.

I always thought that the worst part of Christmas was the distance we felt, but it nearly broke my heart two years ago, when we actually managed to scrounge up the $5,000 it took to fly us all home for Christmas, when my brother told me that it would finally feel like Christmas to him.  It had never occurred to me that Christmas didn’t feel the same to my family without us, but he assured me that he missed his goofy sister sitting at the top of the stairs with the kids, waiting for all of the grown ups to wake up and grab their cameras.  And apparently unwrapping gifts is not quite as exciting without my enthusiasm (One year my sister’s husband bought her a new car and made the mistake of telling me three days before.  I didn’t sleep for three days and was in tears as she shook her stocking and a set of keys fell out.  I stood, shaking and dancing, so filled with excitement for her good fortune that I could barely breathe!)

When Christmas rolls around there is no other time that I feel more tempted to gather up our Tribe and go home.  The silliest little things remind me of past Christmases and I find myself getting all teary.   The funny thing about life is that sometimes we feel as though we might die of sadness yet we keep on taking in air and find a way to carve out happiness in spite of it all.    I’m certain that those of you who live far from your family or have lost loved ones are nodding your heads right now.

Because not only do we have to keep inhaling and exhaling but if we take time to really think about it, we realize that these moments are the ones that our children, and the new friends we gather with, will remember.  I believe that the best thing we can do when we feel so far away is to embrace the happiness before us.   I have stopped trying to make Christmas away from my family feel easier to digest and have simply accepted it, allowing myself the time I need to grieve.  Then I throw all of my energy into re-creating as many traditions as possible for my children and celebrating all of the good things that life has given us.

What about you?  Have you ever not been home for Christmas?


Photography: A snapshot from last year just before the kids ran downstairs to see if Santa visited in the night.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin Morgan December 16, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I really enjoyed reading this, Tina! I’ve read a few posts on here every now and then, but this one certainly hit home the most! I’ve only been living outside the US for 4 years, but Christmas and Thanksgiving are still the hardest times to be away from home, and definitely the times in which I feel most homesick.

Thanks again for a great post! I think I’ll finally subscribe after this one.


Tina December 16, 2013 at 10:08 pm

So glad to know it’s not just me! Thanks so much for following along!


Amanda December 16, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Love, love, love this!! 🙂


Morgan December 16, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Amen, girl. We spent last Christmas in the US (our first Christmas there in 7 years, and our younger two boys’ first Christmas in the US ever). It was wonderful and fun and magical (a white Christmas in Dallas?! Seriously?!)…but it left me feeling sad as well, because I realized how different it is for our families when we’re NOT there for Christmas. They, too, commented that it really “felt” like Christmas with us there. 🙁 We’re spending Christmas away from the US again this year (for the 10th time), and you’re right–it doesn’t really get easier. We love where we live, and don’t even really mind that Christmas isn’t celebrated much here, but we so miss our family back home during the holidays.


Tina December 16, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Ugh! I hoped maybe it was just me and I so hate that you understand that feeling, too. I do appreciate that Denmark celebrates Christmas, especially after years in Morocco where it was just another day.


Ariana {And Here We Are...} December 16, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Yes. I have been having an especially hard time this year with being away for Christmas. It’s so hard! Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be my lowest points in the expat year, and then things get much better around New Year’s and there is hardly any looking back for the rest of the year, until November comes again. We have yet to be able to fly back to the States for the holidays since we have been in Europe for the past 4 years. People always ask us if we are going back for Christmas, and it gets harder every year to say that we aren’t. We just can’t afford it. Maybe next year? Sigh.


Tina December 16, 2013 at 10:17 pm

I am going to hope with you that you can find an amazing deal next year so you can go home for Christmas. {{hugs}}


Myla December 16, 2013 at 9:40 pm

I agree that it’s hard to be away from family during the holidays especially when you grow up celebrating it with tons of family around. My husband’s family is from France and every time we spend the holidays there, I feel a little sad not being around my family. My side of the family immigrated from the Philippines to the US many years ago and I still feel sad as we all now live very far from each other. Christmas and other key holidays are just not the same.


Tina December 16, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Yes, I wonder if there will be another time when we are all together. I don’t think about it at other times of year, but at Christmas it is especially tough.


Alexandra December 16, 2013 at 10:00 pm

I’m sorry that this is a rough time of year for you.

My family lives across the country, so it has probably been 10 years since I have been home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. But I have realized that we have a new tradition of getting together for the long Martin Luther King Day weekend, which is something I look forward to. And though I was on my own this Thanksgiving due to a lack of vacation time, it was actually a lovely day filled with buying a Christmas tree, pulling out the holiday decorations, and decluttering in preparation for the holidays.

Hoping that you and your family have a merry and bright Christmas.


Tina December 16, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Thank you. I think it is wonderful that you and your family have formed your own special traditions. With the way things are changing in the US, I think more and more families are having to get creative with holidays.


Tracy Smith December 16, 2013 at 10:58 pm

This brought tears to my eyes. We have just moved across the country from North Carolina to Colorado. Even though we are just across the country, we will spending Christmas this year on our own. I’m quite nervous about how it will all feel, not having the warmth of hugs, kisses and cooking together with our families. This is inspiring though, and a great reminder to focus on the present situation of making new memories/traditions for our own children. Wishing you guys a Merry Christmas!!!

Take Care,


Andreia December 17, 2013 at 12:34 am

Dear Tina,
some minutes before reading this, I was telling my husband how I feel like a child on this time of the year…and just like you I also miss the entire family together. I live in the same country as my family, but despite de small distance (300 km) it is not always possible for us to spend Christmas together, with our parents, brothers, grandma… but like my husband said, we can make Christmas everytime and we can live the days of Christmas with a special joy and also creating our own traditions.
We leave on a time when there are lots of families that due to professionals needs (like us and probably you) have to live far away from the rest of the family. What I’ve learned along the way: this strenghten us as a family (the six of us) and also with the parents and brothers and grandma and the time we have the chance to spend with them (being it Christmas or not) is precisious!
I wish we can enjoy the best we can this beautiful time of the year and also enjoy with gratitude, joy and quiteness all the things we have: as the most awesome Christmas gift!


Janel December 17, 2013 at 5:39 am

What a beautiful post! So moving. You perfectly described the feelings I felt the few years we lived abroad and Christmas time rolled around. It’s so heart wrenching! I commend you for embracing the sorrow and enduldging in whatever traditions you can at this magical time. Wishing you a Merry Christmas!


Corinne December 17, 2013 at 11:37 am

This is a heart-warming story. I love being with my kids at Christmas, and we’ve changed the way we do things since we are never at home during the holidays. I still love it!


Jenni (Museum Diary) December 17, 2013 at 10:29 pm

I know what you mean about the excitement of Christmas and how it’s much more fun and meaningful when the whole family is together. My mum’s family all near live each other (aunts, uncles, cousins etc) and have the tradition of meeting up on Boxing Day for a big family do, taking it in turns each year. I love it! And yet since I left home 15 years ago, I’ve only been back about three times for Christmas I think. Several of those earlier years I chose to go and work in a Christian retreat centre in the inner Hebrides instead. Many guests came every year, quite a few because they had no family to spend Christmas with. There were no street lights, no shops, no cheesy Christmas music, no consumerism…just a tiny little island in the middle of the ocean, a watch night service at midnight with gale force winds howling round the ancient abbey, a feast with strangers. It made Christmas meaningful in a completely different way. It doesn’t mean I didn’t miss my family, but in later years when other things prevented me from being with my family at Christmas, I just had to think back to my little island and the lives I crossed with, and it made me a little less sad to be away from my family.


Janice December 18, 2013 at 2:46 am

What a precious post, and so perfectly worded for ALL the readers who know exactly what you’re talking about!
But I have to concur that you’re doing what’s best for your nucleus of 5, in creating/recreating your own family traditions that will be forever etched on your children’s hearts. They will someday think back to each Christmas morning and fondly remember all your efforts in making the holiday special…. just for them!
Focus on that, and on the possibility that someday you will be back home to celebrate this special time with all your extended family.
This year is our first Christmas in our new house, 5 minutes from the house where I grew up! It’s a surreal feeling, but one that I’m able to appreciate even more after having been away for so very long! (20 years!)
Merry and Blessed Christmas to you and your precious family, Tina! I know that each moment of Christmas day will be wonderful because of your dedication to making it memorable! xxoo


Mandi | No Apathy Allowed December 25, 2013 at 12:33 am

Living abroad, I’ve spent many Christmases away from my family. Although I love celebrating with German Christmas traditions, it doesn’t quite feel exactly like Christmas without my family. That’s why I’m so grateful that I was able to make that happen this year with a trip home to Seattle. Happy holidays to you and yours!


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