[Away from] Home for the Holidays: Reflections on Christmases Spent Across Oceans

Some memories, in pictures and words, from Christmases spent in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France; Fez, Morocco; and Kisumu, Kenya. One month past Christmas isn’t too late for a Christmas post, is it? 🙂

As countless Christmas songs and Hallmark movies remind us, home is the place to be for the holidays. “For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.” And yeah, you kind of can’t. Without baking Christmas cookies with my grandmother at her house, without hanging stockings over my parents’ fireplace, and without my mother’s Christmas Eve beef wellington feast or our annual Christmas morning family brunch after transforming the living room into a sea of wrapping paper, Christmas just doesn’t feel quite like Christmas. But we all grow up, and maybe we live overseas for a time, or we get married and have a whole new second family to split holiday time with. I’ve spent three out of the past nine Christmases far, far away from my home town. Something felt a little off about those three Christmases… and yet, not in a bad way, for they have remained my most memorable Christmases. There’s no place like home for the holidays, and there’s also no place like not home for the holidays.

Christmas 2009 in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France

There was a frosty train ride north from Paris. There was a buche de Noel cake, log shaped and hiding tiny treasures, and festive table settings made by my host family’s kids. Their grandmother cooked all day and we ate like kings, and the kids put their shoes out at night to be filled with candy and gifts by morning. We made a snowman and came inside and the grandmother made us the most amazing hot chocolate I have ever had. It tasted like a scrumptious Swiss chocolate bar melted straight into a cup of hot cream, and maybe that’s what it was. There was a walk through a grove of snow-decked pine trees to midnight mass at a tiny old stone church. And there were World War I monuments rising out of fields still pockmarked with the craters of century-old shells.

Christmas 2014 in Fez, Morocco

There were twinkling strings of lights on orange trees across the border in Ceuta, Spain. There was a university strike in Tetouan, doors barricaded and guarded by students, classes cancelled, and a sudden day off on December 25th. There was a bus ride through rolling mountains, through blue Chefchaouen, to Fez, where the air was icy cold but indoors it was toasty warm and we cooked pasta and exchanged gifts while Handel’s Messiah played in the background. There’s no Christmas in Morocco, but there was for the six or seven of us in that dar in the Fez Medina. There were roof terrace views, mountains in the distance, walks through winding medina paths dodging donkey carts and tea kettles and leather goods, and a cozy fire in the Ruined Garden Cafe.

Christmas 2017 in Kisumu, Kenya

There was a road trip from Eldoret to Kericho to Kisumu, big family piled into two cars, stopping for tea and mandazi and scenic overlooks along the way. Family outings are a common way of celebrating Christmas in Kenya. “Like the first Christmas,” my grandfather, a pastor, said. “Think about it. Everyone was on the road.” The national park was full to capacity, with lines stretching far out the gate, so we skipped it. We took a boat ride on Lake Victoria and ate whole grilled tilapia with ugali and sukumawiki on a hilltop overlooking the lake. It was eighty plus degrees and felt like July. On the drive home, everyone was out, happy people walking along the side of the road, kids in fancy new Christmas outfits, young men who’d done a little too much partying, and families like ours heading home. Everyone outside on the road under the moon on that warm, warm Christmas night.

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Photo dump! Spain, Jordan, Italy, Kenya, Dubai, Paris, and lots of Morocco!

I kept up with this blog till November and then let it fall to the wayside… for a couple of reasons. One, exam time came around and I was suddenly consumed with grading… although also with buses and trains and planes and adventures. Two, as you probably know if you’re reading this, I got engaged! And all my internet time was taken over by pinterest, weddingwire, and theknot. But since it’s spring break and I’m already bored and I’ve been missing Morocco lately, here is a pile of my fave photos from winter and spring 2015!

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December in Ceuta: Twinkly lights on orange trees

 

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View from a friend’s rooftop in Fez, Morocco

 

Morocco’s Mediterranean coast is beautiful. So blue!

 

 

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Fresh grilled sardines, shrimp, and bissara (a soup made from fava beans) at a cafe by the water in M’diq

 

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Argan trees in southern Morocco

 

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One of my favorite cafes in Tetouan

 

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

 

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Kenya: a cute little baby warthog crosses the road in front of our car

 

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Chefchaouen: Blue(ish) town in the Rif Mountains

 

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The Alhambra, Granada

 

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Alhambra again

 

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Sevilla, Spain

 

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So I had a chance to go (back) to Barcelona, this time with a dear friend, and it was beautiful. Healing and redemption and life and broken pieces put back together, yay.

 

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I tried to capture a photo that would do the Sagrada Familia some amount of justice. I failed. Seriously, if you are ever in Barcelona, don’t let the long ticket lines dissuade you. This was so worth it.

 

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A riad (dar?)

 

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I started noticing that my ring matches stuff in Morocco. Like the Oudaias in Rabat!

 

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… and the Mediterranean!

 

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On International Women’s Day, the Moroccan rail company (ONCF) handed out cards and roses to every woman who bought a train ticket!

 

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Amman at night

 

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We happened to be in Jordan right after ISIS burned the Jordanian pilot. These signs were all over Amman. “Life your head high, you’re Jordanian.”

 

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Mount Nebo. Checkin’ out that Promised Land.

 

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Floating in the Dead Sea was an interesting experience! I was surprised by how narrow the Dead Sea was. Probably not a smart idea to float across, though…

 

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Desert sunset. Wadi Rum, Jordan.

 

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Petra, Jordan

 

 

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“A rose red city half as old as time…”

 

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We’ll always have Paris

 

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A stop along the way from Ouarzazate to the Sahara

 

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wind and sand

 

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We spent a night in this tent in the Sahara. There was a windstorm and I was a big baby and thought our tent was going to collapse. But it held up!

 

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On a bus heading way way down south to Essaouira

 

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Essaouira, Morocco

 

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Annnnddd more Essaouira!

 

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Hungry street cats hoping the tourists will drop some tajine crumbs
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Got to spend Easter with an awesome friend and her cousins in southern Italy! They fed us and fed us and fed us. It was basically food heaven.

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Rome!

 

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Taroudant, Morocco