By Allie Ryan
As I rode my bike to work along the main river that runs through my city, I smiled as I looked ahead at the snow covered Alps of Nagano prefecture. The snow glowed as the sun had just began to start its rise into the sky. I cringed as I gripped the handlebars, barely able to feel my stiff, slightly blue fingers.
I shortly found cover from the brutal December air as I entered my preschool classroom. In the past month I had worked with my three and four-year-old students to create enough Christmas themed artwork to completely cover the walls two times over. From a giant decorated paper Christmas tree to silly-faced snowmen and painted handprints turned into Santas, the entire room screamed Christmas. There were even paper snowflakes hanging from a clothesline in the window. Yet, despite the winter weather outside, the Christmas decorations, and the Christmas music that was ringing in my head after weeks of singing it with my students, some of them were actually plugging their ears when it came on, it still didn’t feel like Christmas morning.
This is the third year that I am away from my family for Christmas, who are a world away and most likely be celebrating the holiday with a beachside picnic in sunny San Diego. I’ll admit that throughout the year I am fine with being abroad, but around the end of November, the feeling of homesickness settles the heaviest after Thanksgiving, along with all the food I’ve consumed. Homesickness is like a little devil that sits on my shoulder, poking me and whispering things in my ear that make me long for the world I know as comforting and familiar, the world I used to belong to.
On the top of the devil’s list, I miss my family’s Christmas tree, and the way it glows in the center of the “Fancy Room”, the living room that we are only allowed to use during this time of the year. My parents always opt for the medium sized trees, after unsuccessfully trying to persuade us that a fake tree would be the most environmentally friendly option. When the tree finds its home in our living room it normally stands about six feet tall, and the branches always sag under the weight of the collection of homemade ornaments that has grown since I first entered the world.
I miss the bickering between the four of us over who should be the one to hang the lights outside, and if we should bother hanging them differently than the year before. My father always the first to protest, arguing that our house was built without convenient outdoor power hook-ups, although every other house on the street somehow has come equipped with them. Ironically, my father is the one to end up stuck with the task, year after year.
I miss the way as soon as I turn the Christmas music on the downstairs stereo, my brother is instantly in agony, pleading to turn off the tackiest music ever made. As the years have progressed I’ve even tried to find ways to please him based on our evolving musical tastes. And still he shouts at me, “Allie, please, anything but another dubstep version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”
I miss standing side by side with my mother, making endless batches of cookies. She produces every cookie ever listed in a cookbook, and I struggle to get the sugar cookie done halfway accurate without burning the hell out of it. My talent is frosting them, and so it’s with her help that I have a cookie to paint with a rainbow collection of sugary pastes.
I miss my parents pretending to be Santa, even though I am in my twenties, and I stopped believing in him a decade and a half ago. On Christmas morning I always find a spread of presents under the tree, all conveniently wrapped in the same paper, none of them labeled. My mother, I mean, Santa, is notorious for never labeling a single gift, and so the unwrapping process has become a completely random act of finding out what gifts are yours, and what belongs to others. This if often slightly disappointing, when you open an amazing gift and “Oops wait, I’m sorry, that’s for your brother” immediately follows.
I never thought I’d say this, let alone forever publish it in internet ink, but I even miss the discussions that walk the tightrope between full blown wars, between my father and I after too much wine and champagne. He stands firmly on the ultra conservative side, shooting a barrage of arrows and cannon balls into my radically liberal and idealist philosophies.
I’m not really homesick, but I miss my family. I recently heard a quote that went something like, Christmas spirit means believing in something, even when you can’t see it. What gets me through the holiday is believing that my family will always be there, the same as before I left, even if I don’t see them for three plus years. While I’ve got the devil on one side, I have a good little voice on the other, reminding me that the traditions we have as a family will hold strong, no matter how many years I am off abroad.
Allie combined her love of foreign cultures, spontaneous adventures, working with children and art, and let it carry her to Thailand, where she worked as a kindergarden teacher. After finishing the year in Thailand, she moved to Japan, and currently works at an international preschool, where she started the school’s first blog. Her blog, Blue Eyed Sensei, documents a foreigner’s experience in a Japanese school. She documents her other adventures at Taking Up Your Precious Time.