Holidays in Foreign Lands


This Christmas and New Year’s Day I’m home with my immediate family, no traveling, just a normal holiday time. For us, “normal” this year is lighting a menorah one week and then putting up a Christmas tree the next. Then going to a restaurant overlooking Clearwater Beach for brunch on Christmas day. But compared to some past years…

The photo below was two Decembers ago, when we lived in Mexico. My daughter introduced her Mexican friends to our tradition of baking cookies. (We had an oven, which is kind of a novelty there.)

holidays Mexico

In Mexico the big holiday is Three Kings Day, the 12th day of Christmas. First we went to the local mall, where the kings paraded through on people in camel suits—that’s a photo from it at the top. Then that night we went to a real parade through downtown, with floats and bands and people throwing candy. toys in shoes

The Three Kings were the rock stars of the show. My favorites were the local beauty queens dressed up like Angels, though the ones dressed up like some Arabian Nights harem fantasy were fun too.

At night, our daughter was told to leave her shoes outside the door and the kings would put presents in them. She left some snacks in a bowl, with a note in Spanish to the kings. In the morning, score!

When my wife and I lived in South Korea teaching English, Christmas was a whirl of neon lights, electronic Santa gadgets, and cheesy music. All the commercialism, without much of that pesky religious part.

Mostly I remember hanging out with the other teachers we knew in Seoul and partying. In other words, it was just another typical day off, but with better food. One teacher was ex-military and had bought a turkey from the U.S. army base store. We drank wine instead of our usual crappy Korean beer.

Santa KoreaI did get to dress up as Santa for the Wonderland school performance with my youngest class. (Yes, the school where we taught was called Wonderland.) I’m not exactly round, so that was the first and last time for that.

The place we taught English the first time was Istanbul, Turkey. Christmas there was…non-existent. I don’t have one photo from there that has anything to do with that holiday—only New Year’s Eve.

We went to a buffet brunch at the local Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza because it was the only place in our neighborhood with any hint of the holidays in place. We dined on food from home near what was probably the only Christmas tree in a 10-mile radius. Then we did what most expats seem to do over the holidays when living abroad: meet up with each other somewhere to drink. In our suburb of Istanbul, however, that meant beers with some Turkish friends in the mix too, at the Yesel Ev bar—-Green House.

If was a different story for their big holiday: Ramadan. That involved being woken up each morning by a guy beating a drum in the streets, eating meals hidden from the public view during daylight hours so we wouldn’t offend anyone, and eating lots of candy at the end.

What are your holiday memories in foreign places around the world?


  1. Joline 12/24/2012
  2. Rachel 12/25/2012
  3. George Jung 12/26/2012

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