GIFTS, GATHERINGS, GOD. We took a hiatus from a lot of things in order to travel this year. Things that we normally participate in and show up for like a good little family should. We didn’t take a hiatus from the holidays altogether, but we did take a break from the three G’s: Gifts, Gatherings, and, in some ways, God (I know that sounds weird, I’ll explain). We are Grateful to have the experience of being far removed from our own Hanukkah/Christmas cultural norm, and we are also very Grateful to have a loving family and warm traditions to return to next year.
We didn’t buy gifts for 25 people this year. Santa did not come to Chiang Mai. We didn’t wrap a single present for our kids. Please, try not to feel too sorry for them. We gave them experiences! Experiences that cost money and time, and will hopefully gift them a lifetime of memories. For Hanukkah we spent a day at the Elephant Retirement Park, getting down and dirty with those magnificent creatures (Grateful). As a belated Christmas present we will spend two nights in a real treehouse with our brave family who is coming from Philadelphia to visit soon (Grateful)!!!
These experiences are special occasions on this trip because they cost more than our daily travel budget allows. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with buying kids things for the holidays. I’ve done it before, and I’ll certainly do it again. I’ll be the first to admit that a trip around Asia is a bit more extravagant than a pile of gifts, so I’m not on any moral high ground over here in beautiful Thailand! There is something decidedly simple about a holiday season that does not involve purchasing or receiving things at all; one that revolves around exploring and experiencing. Also, the complete absence of the holiday marketing and materialism that we see in our western culture at this time of year was a breath of fresh air.
For the first time ever, our December calendar was free and clear. Well, it would be if we had any use for a calendar (we don’t). Holidays at home can feel like a gumby exercise; pulling ourselves in multiple directions, covering all the bases, getting to all the parties, eating all the foods, tearing open all the gifts, singing all the songs. We value celebrating with our families, and we’re lucky to have many loving people in our lives and rich traditions to share with them (Grateful)! The kids especially felt the absence of grandparents and cousins this year, so missing the holidays is not something we’d want to repeat often. But in past years, between the Hanukkah brisket and the Christmas turkey, we’ve neglected to nurture our own personal recipe. Traveling has allowed us – forced us – to do that. It has also pushed us to celebrate with strangers, to allow ourselves to be taken in by people and cultures we would never have otherwise shared holidays with. Thanks to the kindness of the small Jewish community in Chiang Mai, our kids lit the candles, ate latkes, made awesome new friends, and even received gifts – from people we had literally just met.
We are an interfaith family. I’m Jewish. Tom isn’t. We consider ourselves a Jewish family, but it gets complicated. We celebrate Christian holidays with Tom’s side of the family and Jewish holidays with mine. Neither of us are particularly religious-minded or practicing people, and we both question if, who, and what we believe in. To put it simply, we believe in love, in something greater than ourselves, and that whoever or whatever God is, she wants us humans to take good care of each other! We are members of a diverse, social-justice-focused synagogue where we are one of many interfaith families (Grateful). We’re not alone in our mixedness; our mixedness is our blessing, but being mixed can make the holidays messy. This year, we didn’t concern ourselves with making sure we focused on the traditions and teachings of both Hanukkah and Christmas like we usually do. We didn’t talk about God or fumble through the questions we inevitably get from the kids about our beliefs. We’re learning about Buddhism here in Thailand, and Buddhists don’t do holiday hoopla, so we didn’t either. We shelved our mixedness to travel. This year, we’re not an interfaith family straddling synagogue and church; we’re a western family meditating and temple hopping.
For the opportunity to travel long term with my husband and my children. For Pennsylvania’s public school teacher sabbatical option. For the support of our families who miss us but encourage us. For the warmth of the people we’ve met along the way. For the incredible education we’re getting. For cultures that are different from my own. For my own culture. For the thrill of adventure. For the frustration that we learn to deal with on the road. For the chance to do things differently this year. For Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, and the ways that the goodness in all faiths overlap and intertwine. For a husband who rocks trip planning, researching, language learning, and navigating. For a 10-year-old daughter who meditates and cries at the beauty of paper lanterns in the sky. For a 7-year-old son who tells me I’m the best mom in the universe and begs to have more improv time on the guitar. For a 4-year-old daughter who can while away the day with clay and sings so loudly that the neighbors complain. For Bali. For Thailand. For the countries we are soon to explore and the folks we’ve yet to fall in love with. For the people who actually read my blog posts.
I’m grateful for 2015, and what it has in store for me. Thanks for following along!