by Richelle Wright on December 20, 2013

When you live on the backside of the desert… in a land that has not traditionally recognized your favorite holidays and special life moments the way you always have…


…it’s easy to feel at a loss as to how to make those moments special.

Which sometimes encourages me to not look forward to those times.

Let me admit right off the bat, guiltily, that I often have dreaded days that should have been, instead, special highlights for me and for those I love. I traditionally think about that a lot during these months. For in a span of 14 weeks, our family celebrates seven birthdays, three big holidays and one anniversary. That doesn’t include any of the smaller local holidays – you know, those ones scheduled according to the lunar calendar?

It is easy to wonder what else to do when you are hot and tired, when you are already all idea-ed out, when there is comparatively very little locally available and when nine-tenths of the even remotely appealing ideas (via Pinterest) require so much workfirst to figure out and then to find appropriate substitutes for all that is not available –  but would have been so easy to get… if I could’ve only gotten myself to a Walmart.

I so clearly remember a particular conversation I once had with a group of other local expats on this very topic…

1003932_609960685718684_499279793_nWe’d get together once a week, moms and their mostly preschool-aged plus a few younger home school-aged kids. Moms would talk while kids played. That grouping of ladies from so many places and backgrounds and histories was a God-send, an initial wealth of how to’s, where to’s and how to’s – at least for me, a then still young mom and relatively new to the country.  A few years passed and I had definitely “learned the ropes;”  still this ever metamorphosing group continued to be a great resource and a place to brainstorm really important things such as strategies for making homemade marshmallows, ideas for birthday party games or how to convert sheets of gelatin to the teaspoon measurements in all of our US cookbooks.

In that particularly memorable discussion, we were talking about different “date” ideas. My husband and I had, fairly recently, celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary. He and I’d already started brainstorming – considering different ideas of something, anything really, special AND different we could do the following year for our tenth. Only we were coming up with a blank. So I thought I’d throw that question out to my group of mom-friends.

They had lots of ideas.

Only one problem: their suggestions basically echoed everything we’d already considered… pretty much all the same sort of stuff we’d do for a regular, ho-hum-sorta date night. More than a bit discouraged and thinking I’d say something funny to change the topic and move on to something else, I made a flippant comment, something like “Knowing my luck, I’ll end up spending my tenth in labor having baby number six…” We all laughed and the bavardage prattled off in who knows what subsequent direction.

I didn’t really remember that conversation until I found myself in a clinic, in labor, on my tenth anniversary. Our second boy arrived that evening, even though I begged the midwives for some strategy to slow labor down, striving to wait for midnight. Not many laboring women want it to last even a few seconds longer – particularly not in a developing world clinic where pain management is bring your own tylenol. I was more interested in the fact that really didn’t want to share our anniversary, so I was hoping. (I’d certainly never make the claim of being either logical or rational while in the delivery room.) It didn’t work, and  since that evening, we’ve shared our anniversary with the best anniversary gift ever.

Needless to say, God gave us a memorable way to commemorate our tenth! Today we laugh and remark that God certainly has a sense of humor! However, we’re definitely not planning a repeat for our next “big” anniversary.

1459242_10152113106531098_101564484_nBut that brings me back to this:

Can anyone else identify with this struggle to make special life moments unforgettable when you live, work and minister in circumstances inconvenient to easily do so?

Please share what you do… have done… or presently plan to do… to make this Christmas season, an upcoming birthdays, or a soon anniversary, etc., a wonderful time where those involved feel loved and celebrated or know beyond any shadow of doubt that they’ve participated in beautiful and meaningful traditions?


Do you have a particularly memorable holiday or special day story that you’d be willing to share with the rest of us?

What traditions does your family include (or have you adapted) that make holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving special and feel like home for you?

– Richelle Wright, missionary on home assignment from Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

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About Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|
  • Linda Funke

    We kind of consider this our first Christmas in Tanzania, because last Christmas (our actual first Christmas) we were living in a guest house in the town where we had just moved, and I was suffering through my first episode of malaria. I spent the day after Christmas in the hospital thanks to dehydration. The grand total of our Christmas celebration was a little artificial Christmas tree we had bought for our room, watching Christmas movies between trips to the bathroom, and my husband enjoying some of the food our new neighbors graciously brought us.

    So far, this year has gone so much better! I’m singing in our church’s choir. One of our young neighbors asked us to teach her a hymn we know so she can sing at church on Christmas Eve. Our tree is back up this year with addition of a carved nativity underneath. Today we enjoyed decorating Christmas cookies with the neighbor kids. We’re also in the process of putting Swahili subtitles on The Nativity Story to show at church the day before Christmas Eve.

    I do understand about struggling in terms of recreation though. I definitely burned myself trying to make a homemade star for our tree, and I tried to make a cute wall-hanging for Christmas cards. It looked so good in my head, but I finally gave up when the materials that I had available just weren’t cutting it. Sometimes the failed recreation can just lead to more homesickness rather than less. That’s why I’m thankful we have been able to share a few traditions with our Tanzanian friends, learn from their traditions, and start some new traditions.

    • Richelle Wright

      Your first Christmas sounds like a trial by fire… malaria is no fun at all. Such a good point that failing to make it like home as we remember it is often much more frustrating and discouraging than taking a few pieces with us and then embracing and intertwining our two or more worlds…

      May you have a merry and blessed Christmas this year as you are able to celebrate the holiday in a new culture!

  • Hope Egliht Johansson

    Honestly, I end up crafting like a kind of insane person. My first year here it was Christmas cookies. We spent so much money that year on butter. This year it’s Christmas Placemats that are taking up my late nights. That and trying to make some presents to give to those who have sent ones from America. We end up making a lot of things with construction paper, glue, and glitter. We are also starting to focus very heavily on advent. This year my boys are 7, 5, 3, and a foster infant. I LOVE celebrating away from my passport country because it seems to carry more meaning. We remember what is important and can (somewhat) forget all the rest of the commercial Christmas. But (and I’m sure all cross-culture workers reading this can relate!) we also have appreciated those 2 years since we moved here (7 years ago) that we’ve been able to spend in the US. It can be hard, but I find that the longer we do this miso thing, the more I’ve been able to find my groove. It’s so nice not to sit in that Playgroup and not be the new mama. It’s nice to start being the one with a little wisdom under her belt. I wonder what my sweet Wrigtlings will revel in and what specific details they will miss here. We ate watermelon tonight with our dinner btw. Great post. So happy to call you friend.

    • Richelle Wright

      Your “sweet Wrightlings” (adjective is debatable 😉 have played in the snow, made a cake, done some sledding, redecorated the tree, obsessed on the movie Frozen… and now we are getting ready to go Christmas shopping at the mall… they love all these details and are so excited to be with their brother and grandparents. They miss their friends, the annual Christmas program in Harobanda, showing the Jesus film with their daddy, their animals, and going barefoot year round… as does their mama.

      I also felt the same way – not missing at all the commercialized side of Christmas when overseas and feeling more overwhelmed by it than anything else when we are here. I both can’t wait and dread the idea of starting over again new someplace else. But I would get so frustrated trying to do something special and different and wondering what tools to use. Forces creativity, that’s for sure!

      Thanks, once again, for such kind words. Merry Christmas to you and yours… hugs to all those boys.

  • Whitney Conard

    I actually just wrote about all this on my blog – how much I struggle to celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense. It’s so difficult and expensive (if not impossible) to get food items, decorations, etc. needed to recreate what feels like Christmas to me. And honestly, the past two years (including this year) we’ve just gotten away, out of country, because that way I don’t have to try to put up a Charlie Brown tree, buy/make presents that just feel dismal, and just miss our family. But next year when we celebrate with our first baby, I’m sure it will all be different. The one tradition I do hold to is Advent – doing readings and focusing on the spiritual meaning. I’m learning that many of the Western traditions of celebrating Christmas aren’t necessary – Jesus is the only one needed. But I’m still learning what that means for us!

    • Richelle Wright

      I get that… And we each react so differently, too – it’s all wrapped up in individual memories and life experiences as well as how God has uniquely made each one of us. Those first Christmases were so hard (actually, fall through Christmas is always the hardest time of the year for me when overseas – because it is my favorite time of the year in my home land and reminds me of so many wonderful times and special people and even corresponds with seasons of great intimacy with God). Heard a sermon last weekend, though, about the fact that Jesus is the only thing needed to make Christmas Christmas… not that the others are bad… they just aren’t essential and if they are, I am the one who needs to change.

  • Joy Ballard

    We’ve lived in a couple different countries as a family. And one practical thing I do is buy things while on furlough that are on clearance or on after-season sales. For example, a July 4th tablecloth, Fall and Christmas decorations and placemats, birthday cups, plates and napkins. They’re usually deeply discounted and we can pull out something fun for each holiday or celebration. It’s a good way for your kids to feel celebrated or to feel connected with their home country traditions when they can’t be there or be with family.

    • Richelle Wright

      That’s a great idea. I always struggled with the luggage limitations… How’d you make that work?

      • Joy Ballard

        We’re able to send things by seafreight shipment which has been a huge blessing. It’s quite a long wait at times (3-5 months), but worth it.

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