Although my life at sea has ended, the memories are alive and well. With the holiday season in full force, I am reminded of the great opportunities I have been given, and the amazing journey that has brought me to where I am today. ( I know what you are thinking; cheesy opener Melissa. Blame the rum cake, and get some yourself, because the next paragraph is a little mushy gushy too!)
The holidays are a time of year filled with long-standing traditions. Families gather around the table in November to give thanks for the blessings in their lives and break bread with each other (or in my case, see how much green bean casserole can fit in one human stomach.) The Advent season begins as families again join one another in decorating the Christmas tree, setting up the nativity, baking cookies, hanging lights outside the house, and exchanging gifts. These traditions bring us closer to each other as we reflect on the birth of Jesus. It is the part of the year when the time spent with family allows you to grow together and build the relationships that are sometimes lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With work, school, and extra-curricular activities, this time of year forces us to step away from it all and come back to our roots. But what happens when life throws a curveball, and you end up alone, in a foreign country, 2000 miles away from every tradition you have ever known?
Last year I experienced just that. As November began, the craziness of the photography dreams I was pursuing and the tropical weather distracted me from recognizing the holidays were rapidly approaching. At the same time, I was trying to keep myself as busy as possible to avoid the inevitable loneliness I was fearful of experiencing. I dreaded being 2000 miles away from all of the traditions of the season and people that I loved. On Thanksgiving day, my friend, Jonathan, called and invited me to go to dinner with a few other Americans to celebrate the holiday. We went to a great little french bistro for dinner. Maybe it was the traditional place settings, or the duck entree (which was as close to a turkey as we were going to get,) or maybe it was just the three hours of stories and laughter shared around the table that made me forget the distance and feel like I was right at home. By the end of dinner we truly were a family. We may have been a small, dysfunctional, no blood relation family, but we were a family. We even went as far as going to the studio to have family photographs taken. Given the circumstances, we created a collection of photographs that were equally as awkward as our makeshift family tree, but they were a perfect way to begin the holidays.
A week later my mom (yes, my real, biological mom) came to visit for a week. I showed her around, spent every waking moment with her, and was heartbroken when she left. This was the first time I had seen my mom in 4 months, and seeing her again reminded me just how much I missed the traditions of home and love of family. It was especially difficult to say good bye to her just two weeks before Christmas.
I kept myself busy while the next two weeks passed. Boxes of gifts came in as the countdown to Christmas grew shorter, but there is something uneasy about knowing you are going to open your gifts alone in your room while your entire family is somewhere else altogether. You could argue that I was living my dream, seeing the world, pursuing my passions, and with all of that comes sacrifices. I would agree with you on that, but it doesn't make the sacrifices any easier. As I put on my pajamas and climbed into bed on Christmas eve, I heard a knock at my door. I opened the door to find Nick and Adam with huge grins bearing gifts of wine. "Merry Christmas!" They exclaimed and quickly pushed past me where they plopped on the couch and began pouring the wine into glasses. We put on a Christmas movie, then another, and two more after that. We shared stories of family traditions and memories of Christmas past. We played games, sang songs, danced, and laughed more than some people laugh in a whole year. Before we knew it, the sun was rising through my window. We opened presents, took a short nap, watched more movies, sang more songs, and made up more ridiculous dances. We went to the only restaurant open on Christmas, and shared a Christmas meal around a bucket of KFC. Then, that evening, to top it all off, we went outside and did a little star gazing. To say it was a perfect Christmas would be an understatement. In fact, it was the most stress free Christmas ever. There was no coordinating of schedules, fighting the holiday traffic, worrying about who was going to bring what dish to dinner, or anxiously wondering if the crazy aunt (everyone has one) was going to say something innappropriate. It was just some people coming together, celebrating the birth of Christ, and loving each other when they had thought for weeks it was going to be a very unlovely Christmas.
It was on that day that I was reminded the spirit of Christmas can be found anywhere in the world. Sometimes it even stretches far behind the walls of your home, to a little island, or in the Atlantic ocean, with a couple friends, that are now like family. I am so very grateful for these incredible friends that stepped in and stepped up during the holidays, and taught me this important lesson. I am thankful for my family that I get to be with this year, and my hope is that this same Christmas spirit finds you, no matter where you are.