Monday, December 26, 2011

Finding joy this Christmas

I have to admit that I prepared for this to be a difficult Christmas. Obviously after spending 4 Christmases apart from Carlos, I had to be excited to finally spend our FIRST Christmas as a married couple and our first Christmas as a family of three. Obviously those things were a big deal but as Christmas approached, they kept getting overshadowed by sadness of all that we'd be missing.

See, I am from a large, lively, mostly Italian-American family (mom's side), virtually all of which lives in Chicago, and except for one year with my Guatemalan family in New York, I have never in my 29 years spent a Christmas without them!! This means that Christmas has always involved multiple family events, piles of Italian beef, Italian sausage, mostaccioli, multiple pies, multiple Christmas trees, Christmas movies playing loudly on TVs all over the house, louder relatives having a good time, AND real cannoli to top it all off. Then let's add the fact that Carlos is from a Mexican family which causes Christmas to involve the following: at least 4 varieties of homemade tamales, homemade buñuelos (fried dough with sugar!), homemade ponche (think wassail or something, but also different), tons of family, loud music, dancing, and then at the end, Captain Morgan IN the ponche while dancing to the loud music with all the family. I know all this because our last year together in Chicago, we actually joined forces and attended ALL family parties, both his and mine, which was a super rigorous schedule that had us criss-crossing the Chicago metro region. We loved every moment.

OK, now that I've established that precedent, we'll review which of the above elements were present this our first Christmas in Korea: Um. None. OK maybe a little dancing, but that was just me and Carlos being silly and possibly scaring Lucas. There was no Italian food, there were no pies, there was one tiny Christmas tree that cost 3,000 won (maybe $2.50 or so) at Daiso, we never once turned on the TV, no relatives, no tamales, no buñuelos (although this was totally dumb, we absolutely could have made them and I definitely know how, we just forgot), no ponche (we're aiming to make a weak imitation for New Years), and no loud music (I kept being paranoid that I would bother the neighbors as I played Sinatra while cooking). 

And yet, this was a great Christmas. It was quiet, it was mellow, it was peaceful. Some things were difficult: we really struggled to invent our own traditions and navigate the challenge of celebrating Lucas' birthday on the 23rd without letting Christmas take over, maybe that will improve next year.  We had some obvious planning fails - we were going to attempt tamales but forgot to order enough corn masa from so those have to wait until New Years as well, possibly the Lunar New Year if the shipment takes too long. But overall, we were able to find joy in simplicity this Christmas. We didn't wrap presents - they stayed in their boxes from, and I just plopped bows on top of everything. We realized a tiny tree has its benefits - right around the time we fatigued from decorating, it was done! We were spontaneous ("Hey, let's make cinnamon rolls from scratch! OK!").  We randomly trimmed Lucas' hair - after months of refusing to get within 10 feet of a pair of scissors, he suddenly just gave in. We had time to just relax because there were absolutely no events to go to and nobody to celebrate with. We got the chance to Skype with our families, and opened gifts on Christmas Eve alongside my immediate family in Chicago. We were very blessed - they used GMarket to buy and send birthday and Christmas gifts to our house, it was awesome.

Not necessarily the way I would have chosen to celebrate Christmas, but it was meaningful nonetheless. Starting back at Thanksgiving time, I decided that we have to consciously choose to be joyful during these times of celebration and togetherness. It's very easy to feel the sadness over those who are missing, things that have changed, traditions that have fallen apart. But these holidays are not supposed to be about sadness, and especially once you have kids, it becomes clear how important it is to turn it around and find ways to make the festivities about rejoicing with what we have, finding the joy in the smaller things, and focusing on traditions (or creating new ones) that will make these holidays our own in our new circumstances. I think I started learning this as I began to cope with major holidays and events without Carlos, from our son's birth, to Christmas/New Years, to birthdays and anniversaries, to other people's weddings, and so on. Eventually I realized I had to stop making it about me and my sorrow, and start making it about enjoying the little time we have on Earth. So we tried our best this year and I'd say we succeeded.

Here are some images!

Skyping with my parents (who were up at 5:30am Chicago time) for Lucas' birthday. This cake and Bumblebee from Transformers were the only things Lucas requested.

Birthday Boy

The cake: from Paris Baguette. Strawberry as requested by Lucas.
The chocolate heart says "Sarang Haeyo", which means "I Love You".
Convenient, since this was a Christmas cake and we just removed the wreath and "Merry Christmas" decorations. ;)

Lucas and his birthday gifts: the much-anticipated Bumblebee, a firetruck puzzle from Daiso, and 타요 the Bus pillow (he does not watch this show but thought it was awesome anyway).

Here is a video of us singing, 3 people in Korea and 2 in Chicago:

Shopping at E-Mart. Lucas thought this display was the greatest thing ever. Obviously one of our biggest Christmas fails was not taking the time to go see some proper lights/Christmas displays in Seoul.

Our stockings, handmade by one of the aforementioned relatives. These were literally the first things I put in the suitcase when it was time to pack for Korea.

Christmas at home, courtesy of Daiso. Itty bitty tree: ₩3,000.  Ornaments: ₩2,000. Motorized train because little boy believes that no Christmas tree is complete without a train underneath: ₩3,000. Bows on presents: ₩2,000. Magic of Christmas in child's eyes: priceless.

Aftermath of Christmas. Lucas enjoys his gifts, including a Pororo car, an RC bulldozer, lots of play dough, and an imitation LEGO firefighter vehicle from Daiso. He was so caught up with this stuff that he didn't realize there was another box containing Optimus Prime in the bottom of his stocking, so we just let it be. We'll see when he notices. Here, he's enjoying one of our homemade cinnamon rolls.

Funny video of Lucas learning to operate the RC Bulldozer

So to everyone reading, please allow me to repeat the message I've been conveying to friends on Facebook:

I'm wishing that you will find some peace and joy this Christmas. Whether you're apart from your spouse, you're in a new country away from all your loved ones, your little ones are celebrating elsewhere (even another country), you've recently lost someone dear, or you're blessed to have all your loved ones together this year, I hope you'll be able to focus on the miracle of hope for the future that can bring us joy. I find peace knowing that Jesus' birth is the source of my hope, even if his birth in no way historically coincided with this commercialized, contrived winter holiday, but I digress... :) Merry Christmas, everyone!


Renee said...

What a wonderful enlightening post. Being away from family members is quite difficult as I can attest to that as well. I share your view about making the best of the situation, and enjoying the little things in our lives as much as we possibly can.
I enjoy your words of wisdom. Take care and keep writing!

Anonymous said...

Hi Amy,
This is Emy Lopez, and I have been reading your blogs and almost everything you write.
All I can say is that I empathize with you!
Even after 30 some years away from my family and home in Venezuela, it is still hard for me on the holidays. We also have a large and loud family down there!
Here in Milwaukee I have also had to start new traditions, and it seems that every couple of years things get shaken up and I have to start new ones again!
All this really helps me to stay focused on God and my immediate family (Jessica and David), and I am extremely thankful for modern technology, like Skype, and WhatsApp (as you are).
It is really encouraging and amazing to see how you are processing everything, and I wanted to let you know that you guys are in my prayers.
Hope you have a blessed New Year!

rubireyes said...

What a wonderful, heartfelt post. God bless you and your family and I hope you have a very happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you made the best of it on xmas day, I know how you fell to be away from your family on these days, it still hurts me and my kids to be away from are family, back at home but we make the best of it with just are little family on these holydays. I wish you and your family a happy New year.
Daisy chavez

Anonymous said...

Hi, don't know exactly how I found your blog and it looks like you're doing great with your family in Korea...but since you're a licensed U.S. teacher have you thought about trying to get a job at SFS, SIS, KIS or another one of the international schools here? They have such better pay and benefits, you might really enjoy it. Just a thought, and hope you won't feel insulted. Your school looks nice and family seems to be doing great, but it might be a good option for you as you go forward. Good luck to you & yours!

Amy G said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I've considered international schools; I actually taught at one in Mexico. Our current circumstances make my job in a Korean public school the best fit right now, but things can always change, so thanks for the reminder!

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