The Ghosts of Christmas (and Thanksgiving)

Thanksgiving MealThis Thanksgiving was the first I spent outside of the States. I ate a huge Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, gravy, and other common-fare Thanksgiving dishes with a bunch of other volunteers. It was joyous. It was hot—I spent hours diving into one of the 3 pools at our hotel. But, all cheer aside, it didn’t feel like Thanksgiving, and it doesn’t feel like almost Christmas. It doesn’t matter that I have a mock Charlie Brown Christmas tree and that several of my neighbors have blinking Christmas lights.

Don’t worry; to say I’m sad would be a gross error. After all, I will be doing new, jubilant things for Christmas. I’ll eat a ton of Paraguayan food and probably dance all night—that’s how the family with which I’m spending December 25 tells me they celebrate. This sounds like a smashingly jolly time.

So if it’s not sadness that squashed the holidays for me this year, what is it?

To start, Thanksgiving for me has always been a day to be thankful. Thankful for family, friends, delicious food, and everything that makes life great. The trouble is that this year Thanksgiving focused on hanging out with volunteers—good company but little thankful reflection. Conversely, when I’m in my site I am actively, consciously thankful for something on the daily. Being a foreigner makes me hyper-aware of the wonderful things about my native culture and adore the things Paraguay does better—I’m grateful about something everyday, whether it be recalling something familiar or learning something new. What’s more, Paraguayan culture has a fabulous way of appreciating the little things; and it’s contagious. My point: This year I didn’t need to set aside a day to give thanks, because it’s become daily routine.

Next, there’s Christmas. It’s not the location or the traditions; it’s the people who are missing. Christmas for me is a day where I’m guaranteed to see all my siblings and parents at the same time—it doesn’t happen any other time of year. I’m not seeing any of them, so it’s just December 25.