It's the day after Christmas. It's 10AM and my husband hasn't emerged from the bedroom – that's how tired out we are. The water is heating on the stove for a third round of washing up to get through all the Christmas dishes. We still have a couple of gift bags to hand to some friends, and this afternoon we're going to the pool with our friends to enjoy the uniqueness of Christmas in the tropics.
On Christmas Eve, with the Lord of the Rings on and Isaac and I up too late wrapping presents, I stopped and looked at him and said, “We're the actual adults that are setting up Christmas for our actual family. How weird is that?”
My oldest is five and I'm in my 30's, so I think the reason it feels weird is that this is only the second year that we have done Christmas on our own. When we're in the US we travel to be with family and usually it's still our parents that are organizing the overall events, and we go with the flow. To do all of Christmas in our own way, making our own traditions, being in charge – that's new.
When you're far from family and living overseas everyone knows it's usually one of the hardest, loneliest times. We long to be with family and taking part in beloved traditions, and mostly the just being together. That is true. And we are new, and it's overwhelming to be in the stage of figuring things out, not knowing what's going on or what we're supposed to do, and to feel pretty uncomfortable sometimes with the differences.
But it all also has great parts, and honestly I am content and not sad, even though I miss family. We are creating memories for our children, memories of our family, things that will always be a part of their childhood. Since we're always traveling for the holidays, I've hardly tried a lot of the things I want to be good at, and so here I get to try them with pretty much my husband as the only one affected by my fumbling first attempts at things like roasting meat, making monkey bread.
Isaac's family traditionally makes clam chowder on Christmas Eve. Since we don't have clams here, we've make our favorite Thai coconut lime soup instead, and it fits with the tropical theme as well as well as making Isaac happy. I put out Christmas cookies, which I try to add to each year. I always make sugar cookies, which used to be Isaac's favorite, but I am proud that this chocolate peanut toffee has eclipsed sugar cookies in his affections. I love, love, lovechocolate espresso snowcaps (basically coffee and dark chocolate in a cookie), but I don't roll them in sugar, I just sprinkle it on top at the end. This year I also tried fudge for the first time and it was so easy! I did a mint chocolate version. Next year I want to try popcorn balls and ginger snaps.
This year Judah clamped onto the idea of Santa with no encouragement from us, so we agreeably left out a tray of cookies and milk, and read “The Night Before Christmas.” Isaac and I watched Lord of the Rings while we wrapped, which we had conveniently left to the very last minute. I totally miss the handy cute things in the US like gift tags and nice Christmas wrapping paper.
Christmas morning I was up first thing enjoying the first light on the palm trees out the window while working on cinnamon rolls and a breakfast casserole, neither of which I had ever made before. Truth – Isaac is not a breakfast person and my kids will eat the usual with no complaint, so a fancy breakfast was purely for me. I love breakfast and I crave things like a good cheesy egg breakfast casserole. I heard the door to the bedroom squeak open and expected to have Elly walk in, but after a few minutes of silence I found her squatting in wonder in front of the Christmas tree, blanket discarded, handling all the presents. Hah. Isaac got up and woke up Judah, and we enjoyed their amazement and excitement over the stockings and presents under the tree. After stockings we read the Christmas story and put a few more key symbols on the Jesse Tree. I enjoyed my breakfast, probably even more than Christmas dinner, and then we gave in to our eager kids and opened gifts.
Thank God for packages from home. It's such a delight to have gifts from family to open up, simple things like new t-shirts for Isaac that actually fit, wraps for me to throw over my tank tops to make me modest enough to go out in this culture, and quality toys for the kids. It's nice that basic things are special here! And then, as the kids began to play, one by one, with new toys, I started on Christmas dinner. I do this for Isaac because it means something to him, having a proper roast and roast veges and gravy and good rolls. It's a challenge to do it all anywhere, but especially here. It mostly worked out, with one exception, my dough failed to rise and I didn't have any more yeast. I rolled it out and covered it in olive oil and garlic salt and Italian seasoning and that, surprisingly, made a great flatbread that was passable even if it wasn't the family monkey bread recipe. I put together a big salad with almonds and cranberries and Italian dressing, which was entirely for my benefit, and since fresh veges are rare here that was absolutely the highlight for me. So, so good.
We were rushing at that point, trying to eat and get kids ready and tidy up and grab opportunities to Skype with both sides of the family, and then we were out the door to visit a friend's home. That is a major part of Christmas here in Papua. You go to church and you visit friends/family. I know this, but I don't know the specifics. When do you go to church? As it turns out, our church is unusual and had only one service on Christmas evening. So we planned to visit friends after Christmas lunch, and then open our home in the afternoon. I had plenty of questions. Which friends do you visit? How do you know when to do? How long do you stay? What do you serve? How much do you eat, or do you turn down the many encouragements to eat and keep eating?
Since we were pretty unsure about it all, it was nice to visit one family and have a few families visit us, and leave it at that this year, so that we can learn from this first experience and know what to do next year. It was good to chat with friends, and I'd put together some packets of my American Christmas goodies to hand out to some friends and students we know that were on campus for the holidays.
And then, after tidying up a bit and doing a second round of dishes, we packed up and went to church, which we'd heard was at 6, but of course started more like 7pm. We sat around and socialized while we waited. The kids were all decked out in outfits, the little girls made up and in frilly dresses, boys in cowboy hats, all prepared for a dance and program they were going to put on. We chatted with some friends who also moved to Papua this year from the opposite side of Indonesia, so they are also missing home and family and adjusting to the language and culture, even from within Indonesia. Hearing their perspective on everything here was fascinating.
Church was full and I could see that extended family was visiting, and just like in the US some people I know from the neighborhood showed up that apparently don't usually go to the church. Everyone is dressed in new batik, looking sharp, and I have to chuckle at the way Western styles and traditions have been adopted here. Looking forward and seeing kids in Santa hats, cowboy hats, and pastors in suits in the tropical heat – geez. And here we are, bringing America's current fixation on everything being informal, and we always struggle to dress up enough for things!
I love our church. I love worshiping with them in Indonesian, I love how incredibly diverse the congregation is, a mix of the local Arfak tribes (the Hatam women led a song in Hatam chant), other Papuans, and people from Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi as well. I love worshiping in that context. They worship with great enthusiasm, and that is what I love, this joining with the body of Christ around the world and singing about the incarnation. I take, deep, deep joy in it. I am thankful to be here.
Dia lahir untuk kami
Dia mati untuk kami
Dia bangkit untuk kami semua
Dia itu Tuhan kami
Dia itu Allah kami
Dia Raja diatas segala Raja
Dia itu firman Allah
Yang turun ke bumi
Yang jadi sama dengan manusia
Dia Yesus sobat kami
Dia Yesus Tuhan kami
However, as the program went on and the clock ticked past 9pm, our kids ramp up instead of falling asleep in the pews like other kids, and we had to slip out and skip on the meal that was being set up outside. We came home and had a crackers/cheese/pickles/olives/nuts tray to snack on while watching a movie, but the power went out so instead I crashed while browsing the instagram photos of friends celebrating Christmas across the world.