Holidays Away

Our happy little (180cm, fake) tree.

When you move abroad, you generally accept that while you are making new memories and new friends and having all kinds of adventures, you are also leaving behind family and friends and all kinds of old memories and adventures. You accept that you will miss birthdays, holding your best friend’s newborn infant, anniversaries, maybe even weddings and funerals. You do your best to acknowledge these things and take part in them from afar, but every now and then it gets to you that while you’re off adventuring, you’re still missing out on things back home. And nothing gets to me more than FOMO.

I was a bit worried about the holidays, specifically Christmas and Thanksgiving, being abroad. This isn’t my first Christmas abroad – in 2011, the Gentleman and I went to Jordan to visit his brother who was living there at the time. But we stayed in a Marriott in Amman, and on Christmas morning the staff placed a beautifully-decorated gingerbread house atop our daily newspaper outside our hotel room door. The entire hotel had every hall decked, right down to the larger-than-life Christmas tree and model train set complete with festive model village.

Not necessarily a Christmas decoration, but a gift from holidays past from a friend that always puts me in a holiday mood. I enjoy drinking mulled wine and other festive drinks from it. Also it’s mine because it has my initial on it, and no one else is allowed to use it.

I wasn’t so sure about Abu Dhabi. Granted, National Day – the anniversary of the uniting of the Emirates into one country – falls shortly before Christmas at the beginning of December and so the entire country is festooned with brilliant flags and lights which happen to be in the national flags colors – red, green, and white being dominant. If you squint, you can almost imagine that these are holiday decorations.

I needn’t have worried, however. While the malls are a bit sparser on the decor (actually a welcome change from the in-your-face-since-the-morning-after-Halloween decor that American malls so treasure), restaurants and hotels and Aec Hardware and IEKA (sic on both to avoid false SEO) are in full-tilt Christmas mode. There are fake evergreen garlands decking halls everywhere, bowls of fake holly adorning restaurant tables, and piped-in smells of spruce and cinnamon. And gingerbread….everywhere. It’s quite the decorative element here.

IEKA has lovely fake garlands and “hand made” crocheted ornaments. The Santa comes from my Christmas collection of ornaments from my aunt.

Real pine trees out here can be found, but they’re expensive. We sucked up our disdain for plastic and purchased an 180cm fake tree from Carrefour (sort of a French WalMart-Target hybrid popular in GCC countries for selling just about everything) and some blinking LED fairy lights. (I have yet to find static fairy lights out here; everything blinks and winks and fades and otherwise trips the damn light fantastic.) I had shipped over my collection of Christmas ornaments – built up over the years thanks to my aunt who gifted me unique and often whimsical ornaments at Christmas every year since I graduated from college – and we bought some plastic filler ball ornaments.

Much like the holiday season back in the States, this one has been fraught with late nights, unhealthy food, more errands to run than time existing, and – basically – a major dose of burning the festive holiday sanity candle at both ends. And then lighting the middle on fire and letting the whole thing just disintegrate. That’s typically how the holidays go in the States – it’s a nonstop ride from Thanksgiving onwards until January 2, when you wake up and have to go back to work and take down all of your dejected decor and cry a little because now there’s basically nothing to look forward to in life until April when the sun comes out again.

Thanksgiving was fun – except it was on a Friday and we didn’t have any days off. I streamed the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at night when I got home from work and did my best to make all-butter pie crust, which ultimately failed because in our tiny kitchen I couldn’t keep the dough from melting on the countertops. I finally incorporated some shortening and called it a day. We had a delicious dinner with friends – and I didn’t even have to make the turkey, a friend volunteered to take that on – and we managed to throw together a pretty legit meal complete with stuffing, sweet potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin and mince pies.

New view from our living room balcony….sure beats the desert view we had before!

But then, immediately after Thanksgiving and throwing a little more chaos into the mix, we moved out of our flat the first weekend in December. Now, granted, this was a good – no, a great move. The first flat we lived in when I moved out here was a nice starter-flat. It was spacious enough, but not too big. It was located near good friends, we had a beach and a pool, and it was situated on the outside of Abu Dhabi, closer to Dubai. But once I started my job and met new people, our lives began taking us closer to downtown. The commute just to run errands could take forty five minutes each way. On weekends and evenings after work, we found ourselves turning down opportunities simply because we couldn’t be bothered to make the trip. On top of that, the flat where we lived just wasn’t really what we both wanted.

We found our dream flat – in Abu Dhabi at least – on the 29th floor of a high rise overlooking downtown. Technically, we now live on an island just off of the downtown mainland, and we love it. We found a west-facing flat, and so we get the spectacular sunsets that Abu Dhabi offers and none of the glaring daytime light that heated up our old flat and was nightmarish in summertime.  We signed the lease, did all of the requisite paperwork, and hired some incredible movers who packed up, transported, and unpacked all of our possessions in the span of about 10 hours. It was highly efficient, very organized, and totally chaotic. The new space we moved into is laid out differently and what we gained in floor space, we lost in storage. Smaller closets, fewer kitchen cabinets, nonexistent bathroom cupboards.

So, on top of trying to get in a holly jolly mood, make one more appetizer or cookie batch for one more holiday get-together, buy one more gift, run one more errand, wrap one more thing, get the tree up, decorate it, keep the cat away from the tree (a full-time job in and of itself), and all of those other things that churn the holiday season up into a frenzied flurry, we have also been unpacking and losing the spatula and finding it in the bathroom and trying to build IEKA storage units and stripping screws and digging through mounds of laundry that won’t fit in the closet.

I don’t know why either of us thought this would be a good idea.

Their stockings were hung by the window sill with care…accompanied by icicle lights and a festive electric tree.

But the good news in all of this is that this frazzled, electric exhaustion that comes with a sugar-cookie aftertaste during the holidays exists here too. The good news is that we have a flat to decorate, that we have so many social gatherings, and that the smells and tastes of Christmas are very much here with us. We have stockings hung, although not by a chimney but off of the window sill.There are cookies still to bake and candy canes to be eaten. There are surprises and joy and love and warmth. And, although we may be thousands of miles away from our families and friends back home, this year we get to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with each other for the first time in several years. We get to create our own new traditions the way new families – even families of two (plus cat) – do, and although some of ours might be a little less traditional (fake tree, possibly some Thai carry-out for Christmas Eve dinner) they’re ours and we’ll embrace them.

Even the cat is getting into the spirit.

And one tradition will certainly be honored this year – an epic and well-earned Christmas day nap.



3 thoughts on “Holidays Away

    1. Amandakocz – that was the initial goal, but – to be honest – there’s a lot of pressure involved in that! Like if whatever we wind up doing on Christmas Day (the first “day off” either of us has had in….months?) has to set the scene for all Christmases to come, then it looks like all Christmases will involve napping, delivery Thai food, and more napping. I think the key to living overseas in all things, including holiday traditions, is to just go with the flow. If we find something that sticks, we’ll go with it, but we don’t expect to. It’s a constant battle of realigning our expectations with reality!

  1. I’m glad to see you’re fulfilling you tradition of making “bad” (perhaps illogical would be a better word) decisions that cause you lots of stress but ultimately always work out for the best in the end. Good to know you can always rely on your gut, or at least your heart. 🙂

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