Interesting MK Tidbit #53: Christmas is Different

I haven’t done an MK Tidbit post in a while, but I was thinking about how being an MK (Missionary Kid) or TCK (Third Culture Kid) can make Christmas quite different from what your tradition may be.

So I assembled a few of the things that have made Christmas different for me. Perhaps any MK/TCK readers might like to add their own at the end.

  • For us tropical MKs, growing up where it is warm all year round, that traditional Christmas song sounds more like “I’m dreaming of a green Christmas, just like the ones I used to know…”
    green, green jungle bordering a narrow dirth path

    A typical jungle path.
    The jungle is this color all year.
    Photo by Susie P, used by permission.

    Perhaps European MKs dream of a different colored Christmas, I’m not sure, but for those of us from the South Pacific, South & Central America and parts of Africa, Christmases were usually green. December is actually the start of summer in the southern hemisphere, so it’s not unusual for Australian families to go to the beach for Christmas. Being as close to Australia as we were where I grew up, we heard a lot of fellow missionaries dreaming about a sandy Christmas.

  • Speaking of traditional Christmas songs, I remember laughing as a youngster when I heard the song with the phrase “Christmas comes but once a year.” Especially back then, when heavy items were best sent ‘surface mail’ (that is, by ship, as opposed to by plane, or ‘air mail’) due to cost, our Christmas came whenever the packages did. I think we got at least one in June. Even these days, international mail can result in packages arriving later than when you may have planned for them.
  • Another clear memory I have from Christmas as a kid that is probably different from yours is one from when I was six or seven. We had set up our small artificial Christmas tree on the counter of our home in the remote village location where my parents were translators. I put my final ornament on and then stepped back to survey the whole beautiful tree. I was so excited by it and the Christmas it meant was coming that I wanted to jump up and down – but I had to run outside to do it, so that I didn’t shake our whole jungle-materials house and wobble the tree. 🙂
  • red-and-white-candy-canes-box-12-s-2608-p[1]Many Americans (myself included) enjoy candy canes around Christmas. But the slightest imperfection in the wrapper would result in the moisture from the tropical humidity soaking into the candy, so when I was growing up, candy canes were chewy as often as not. If we could even get them. I do fondly remember multiple relatives sending candy canes in packages, though that often resulted in candy cane pieces. In pieces or chewy, they were still a delicious treat.
  • Now that I’m on my own with parents often overseas during the holidays, that can mean thinking of Christmas in October (before the retail stores came up with the idea) in order to get things in the mail in time – or else, see the third bullet point 🙂

That’s all I can think of for now, though I’m sure there are more fun stories out there. Since Christmas was often so different for us growing up, sometimes it’s a bit of an adjustment for MKs, settling back into our passport countries. We may not have much (if any) experience with snow, or with the hustle of malls around Christmas, or what the unwritten gifting expectations are. Sometimes we have to do that adjusting without family around, which can result in our own special sort of pain during the holidays. Sometimes, though, we have friends to help us through it (many thanks to the VD family who helped me in college.)

If you know any MKs yourself, perhaps you could take time this Christmas to make sure they have somewhere to go. They may not have any relatives near, but they may hesitate to ask. If they do have somewhere to spend Christmas, you can still take the time to ask them about their Christmases growing up. Perhaps you could also ask them if they have any questions. Sometimes it gets awkward always being the one to ask what things mean or how things are done, especially when you feel like everyone else just knows, and having someone open to questions can help.

We may not have had the joy of going to pick a tree from the lot as a family every year, or going sledding regularly, but we do have our own unique Christmas traditions and memories. If you are an MK/TCK yourself, are yours similar to mine or different? If you aren’t an MK/TCK, have you thought about how different Christmas can be before?

MK or not, Merry Christmas to all of you my readers, and a Happy New Year!

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About Ruth

I am a Missionary Kid (MK) enjoying navigating this life with the unique viewpoint that has given me.
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6 Responses to Interesting MK Tidbit #53: Christmas is Different

  1. Momma Gossner says:

    Thanks, Ruth, for sharing. I was sharing Christmas memories a couple weeks ago with some church women. My growing up memories always had snow, one year we went to southern California to visit grandparents, and no snow. I couldn’t believe you could have Christmas without snow. Little did I know back then. 🙂 When we returned home to northern California we had to park in the neighbors driveway, ours was blocked with a couple feet of snow! While in PNG, I discovered that when it was raining really hard, you could squint your eyes and it almost looked like snow coming down. Merry Christmas.

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  2. bjudy5467 says:

    Hi Ruth,Thank you for sharing your different Christmases.  It was fun to read.  I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  Hope you have a wonderful time with friends and family.  Judy (a friend of your mom and dad when we all lived in the Methow Valley)

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  3. Susie says:

    Ditto on the green Christmas, chewy candy canes, and Christmas mail at odd times of the year. 🙂

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  4. mandyinpng says:

    Agree with the things you said, plus the sometimes odd presents received from people who hadn’t seen you in a long time so didn’t really know what was appropriate for your age/interests. But still appreciating the thought that went into sending those gifts!

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  5. Mom VanDoren says:

    Well, I’m not an MK, but does being a former “MP” count?
    -Annual peanut brittle from a church that sent it without fail, and it was usually months late, and quite hard and all in one clump (more so than the normal “brittle” state it was supposed to have), but like you said, the thought DID count, and was much appreciated.
    -Many, many more Christmas cards than we have ever received before or since, in the States, arriving in large manila envelopes from churches!
    -Kids “sledding” down dry grass hills on cardboard boxes!
    -Setting out our stuffed snowman collection from my sister, to simulate the snow of Christmas time.
    -Lighting a fire in our wood stove even though it was actually very warm outside, just because it felt “Christmassy”!

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  6. Joanna says:

    You are RIGHT ON, as usual, Ruth! Thanks for your MK Tidbits posts, they are so helpful for my crew 🙂

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