By Wakanyi Hoffman
‘She was an adventurer at heart, but oh how she loved drinking this tea from this mug in this chair, oh how she loved to be home’ -Unknown
It is always during Christmastime that we begin to take stock of our nomadic lifestyle, in recognition of a homesickness for a place we once lived in. It is also perhaps the only time of the year when in every country that we have lived in, Christmas is acknowledged. With every decorated building or house, specific memories begin to ping, like text messages, each one reminding us of a sacred time shared in December with loved ones, somewhere else on this planet.
It matters little whether our obligatory holiday photo is blurred by snowflakes falling daintily over our heads, or if we stand huddled in matching swim suits under a coconut tree. It is that festive mood that we welcome the most, a kind of global journey towards a joyful experience.
Wherever in the world that we find ourselves, the Christmas spirit seems to beckon harmless encounters, when strangers smile through the corners of their eyes, revealing a renewed sense of global oneness, maybe over gift wrappers at shop counters or at finding each other recipients of a free street concert of Christmas carols.
Picking a Christmas tree
This year we had the experience of going to a Christmas tree farm and choosing our own special, freshly-cut tree. There wasn’t the ceremonial muscled ‘dad axing down the tree in one gigantic chop’ like we have seen in Christmas movies. But we delighted in the pleasure of waiting for the precise moment when all our sensations would lead us to The One Tree.
Our family at a Christmas tree farm in the Netherlands
Decorating the traveling Christmas tree
The homesickness announces itself with the traditional tree-decorating ceremony, when our children begin to bicker about who put the Christmas star on the tree last year. The mention of ‘last year’, triggers an image of a scene similarly scripted in another setting- in a different home, in a different spot in the living room either behind or in front of our traveling green couch, to decorate our traveling Christmas tree.
This year, having just moved to the Netherlands and still living in a temporary apartment, we could have chosen to travel back to Nairobi, my birth home, or to Ohio, where my husband was born. Direct flights from Amsterdam would lead us to either direction, in the same amount of travel time, to celebrate Christmas with our extended families.
But for us, this is not an easy choice to make- we must first consider this: Which family should we visit this time- mine or his? Which one did we visit last? Who might be offended? Can we even afford these flights? These questions are deeply examined alongside a long list of pros and cons. This process involves a careful deliberation over a seemingly small matter regarding where in the world we will be serving Christmas pudding.
We could just go to Thailand for Christmas
In an attempt to solve the holiday puzzle this year, our 8 year old -the third in the birth order of our four children born in different countries- said, “We could just go to Thailand, you know!” We all knew instantly that her simple solution was laced with a personal interest- she was born in Bangkok and identifies as Thai. Her longing to return to her birth country is legendary. I have had visions of her back-packed teenage version, marching into the kitchen in another home in another country and declaring triumphantly, “I am moving to Thailand for good!” Just like that.
She recently befriended the only Thai boy in her school, two grades below her and declared that the two of them will be best friends forever. On a trip back to Thailand to visit his family, he brought back Thai snacks- dried mango chips doused in coconut nectar- a shared sweetness that solidified a blossoming love affair.
His mother and I discussed a mythical betrothal while analyzing a photo that I took of our two Thai babies chasing each other at a playground. It was the way that their eyes seemed to be reflecting an exact shade of light brown, when I asked them to stop momentarily for a selfie, under a rare flash of blue skies, in the endless gloom that is autumn in the Netherlands.
Autumn season in the Netherlands
Indeed, we could just go to Thailand for Christmas, and escape the bitter cold and ghastly wind chill that simply wipes off the Christmas cheer on our smiling, chapped lips. We could be on a dreamy beach in Kho Pi Pi, or in Phuket or in Kraabi, retracing our steps in all the places we visited as local residents of Thailand. If we still lived there, we would go to Pranburi, a lesser-known beach that is quiet during Christmastime. We would decorate a coconut tree and make a giant ‘sandman’, the tropical version of a snowman.
Our former Thai housekeeper is in on this plan too. Since our tearful goodbye four years ago, we call her at least once a month and she gives us a summarized update of life back in our village on the outskirts of the city. Her pineapple business is booming with a lot more customers than she can cope with. She could use a holiday, she says- a Christmas holiday with us, perhaps? We could all visit her village far from Bangkok, somewhere south, on an isolated beach where tourists don’t frequent. That sounds like the ideal location for a spicy helping of pad see ew noodles at Christmas lunch.
She is a part of our extended family- not a blood relative, but she comes fairly close. She was the first person to hold our day old last born baby straight out of the hospital’s bassinet, and the only other person to ever take a keen interest in his bowel movements. She took on the role of aunt to our children and big sister to me, just like many other friends around the world who became members of our extended global family.
When we contemplate where in the world to celebrate Christmas, travel to Thailand, Ethiopia, Philippines or Nepal is a high consideration, alongside travel to The US or to Kenya, where our blood relatives live. These are all the places that we have called home, where we still feel like local residents.
‘Return to old watering holes for more than water – friends and dreams are there to meet you’- An African proverb.
We could also stay put in our new home in the Netherlands, where we have recently acquired local residency. We could celebrate Christmas with new friends who have rearranged their furniture this way and that way to create space for our large family inside their homes and large hearts.
Another Christmas season in another home
As I transported our tree back home in a cargo bike, Dutch-style, there was a strong awareness, registered in each pedaled cycle, that this was a historical moment in which I was an active participant.
Transporting the Christmas tree home in the cargo bike
A memory of this precise moment will one day be pulled out, during another Christmas season, in another home. It will spark a longing for this tender moment once experienced as both local and global residents of the Netherlands.
As we continue to contemplate what our nomadic lifestyle means, we revel in this global celebration, when most of the world livens up in colorfully lit-up decorations. It matters little whether greeting cards mailed to our new address read ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Happy x-mas’, or simply, ‘Happy Holidays’. This particular season seems to bring an extra pinch of love, a connection of strangers and a reminder that we are all citizens of one world.