I’m going to make a statement that may rock the world of some folks. Are you ready?

I like Christmas better overseas. Saaay what? Are you kidding me? No, I’m not. I hate being away from family…in fact, the perfect Christmas would be if my family could magically transport into my living room on Christmas Eve. But since Star Trek technology is still not possible, I have learned to enjoy…nay, love and embrace the Christmas season abroad.

Now, this was a process that definitely didn’t happen my first year…or really the first three years overseas. I remember my first Christmas, a mere 2 months after arriving, standing in my living room and bawling my eyes out while Josh Groban’s version of “I’ll be home for Christmas” played in the background. There’s this part in the song where people who are overseas in the military are wishing their loved ones back home a “Merry Christmas”. It was super sad and heartwarming, somehow at the same time. The lyrics were palpable…I wouldn’t be home for Christmas.

I wouldn’t be home for Christmas…only in my dreams. And dream, did I ever. I couldn’t wait until I was back in the U.S. for Christmas. For three years I obsessed about it, talked about it, cried and hoped for it. So the time finally came, we flew 48 hours home for 5 months in the glorious U.S. of A. My dreams, hopes and aspirations were finally coming true.

Cue melancholy music…what a let down.

Oh man, did I get a quick cold splash of reality. And by cold I mean freezing! My tropical bones were in a state of shock and my nose didn’t like being nipped by Jack Frost. Of course, I loved seeing the decorations, the drinking of peppermint lattes and hearing the jolly music playing everywhere. I loved baking cookies with my nieces and riding the 4-wheeler with my nephew. But I forgot all the annoying stuff. I forgot about commercials. And oh my word, were there commercials. My kids ask for very little in our host country because they are exposed to very little commercialism. But when they are in front of an American T.V. or in the mall or just driving down the road, they are bombarded. And it is too much for anyone to resist. That “me, me, me” and “take, take, take” desire that ALL humans have, whether young and old, kicks in to full gear.

And how did I respond? Not right. I can tell you that. I got sucked up into buying and spending and wanting more and more and MORE. I felt so much pressure to give and not to those who were in need or to a cause that was dear to my heart but to people. To people that already had too much to begin with. I filled our luggage for the trip back to our host country to the brim with plastic pieces belonging to ginormous toy sets. I could of used that space for more important stuff (like Velveeta and Rotel).

And then the busyness. Again, I had missed the Christmas parties and pageants and the dirty Santa Clause exchanges when I was overseas but once I was home in the U.S., it was way too much. Friends, families, churches were stressed and stretched over parties and programs that didn’t amount to anything. I felt like I barely saw the people around the holidays for whom I flew 10,000 miles over land and sea.

It was disappointing. But good. A double dose of truth is always good. Because my mind had built a perfect world.  A magical place of wonder that DIDN’T exist.

Will I ever go “home” to the States again for Christmas? Yes, in fact next year we will be back.  And I am excited to cook with my mom and sister, go to the family farm with my in-laws and sing Christmas carols with my local church. But I have learned from my past experience that correct expectations are everything.  I’ve learned to say “no” to well-intended invitations and how to resist getting sucked into the deep, dark hole of the “American Cultural Christmas”. I will take what I learned from years of Christmases overseas: find the quiet, enjoy the simple and focus on the Savior.

If you are struggling with being gone overseas this year, know you aren’t alone. We’ve all been there. But also try to remember that the grass is always greener (and more decorated) on the other side, but that doesn’t make it ideal. Enjoy your overseas family and the ability to set your own uncomplicated schedule, buy authentic and simpler gifts, and focus on the Lord. It is a gift. One of the many gifts of living abroad.