The Saratoga Sun -

Learning other holidays, relearning ours


The holiday season has started.

This past Thanksgiving, I realized I was enjoying this holiday again. It has taken me four years, which is about the same time I stopped living overseas.

Thanksgiving was probably the toughest holiday to celebrate for many reasons when I lived out of the country.

When I had a restaurant in Taiwan, because we marketed as American style cuisine, we were packed during this time. It was all hands on deck for two-to-possibly-three seatings, serving a couple hundred dinners. That sort of volume had me doing everything: dishwasher, server, turkey carver, chef and bartender. It was exhausting, and although the restaurant made money—not a favorite time for me.

Before the restaurant, there were times I remember getting together with other Americans to celebrate, but it only happened on a couple occasions. Although you can find turkey rice food stalls fairly easy in Asia, whole turkeys are hard to come by and, if you do, they’re really expensive.

In Australia, I didn’t even try to celebrate because I lived in place that had hardly any Americans and Thanksgiving isn’t exactly a day you observe by yourself.

I will say Thanksgiving is definitely a day you can get homesick for family.

Christmas is better, but if you think it is commercial here in the USA, try living in Asia. The Chinese love to give presents and obviously merchants look for any excuse to have a day where gifts are exchanged.

Spectacular decorations abound in many stores, but it felt so hollow. It all seemed like a bit of scam since Christmas spirit was not something the Chinese really understood. Still, it was a fun time and I was around enough Westerners who did understand the meaning.

Australia introduced me to another holiday associated with Christmas that I don’t think many Americans know about. It is called Boxing Day and it is on the day after Christmas. As it was explained to me, it was the day friends got together and exchanged gifts. Boxing Day is much like Black Friday in the USA with huge discounts—only it comes after Christmas. Boxing Day sales in Canada, Australia and New Zealand are so strong for many merchants in those countries, Boxing Day has become the day of the year with the greatest revenue. Boxing Day originally comes from Britain and although over the generations it has come to be celebrated in different ways, somehow Americans didn’t embrace the holiday.

Anyway, I was not in Australia enough years for it to become a part of my Christmas traditions. I did get to enjoy the part of getting together with friends and getting some great prices on a lot of cool Australian stuff.

Another holiday I was exposed to overseas, I learned to enjoy as an employee but not an employer, was Chinese New Year. China starts celebrating this holiday on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The festival lasts for about 23 days, ending on the 15th day of the first lunar month in the following year in the Chinese calendar. That works to about three weeks off. On top of getting the time off and paid for it, the start of the holiday has an employer giving a cash bonus, usually a month’s pay to every worker. Plus there is a company dinner where in addition to huge spreads of food and drink, there are usually gifts won by everyone in lucky draws.

For the five years as an owner, I dreaded this time of year. I learned to put money aside for this holiday all year long so my business wouldn’t be crippled when it finally came up. But when I was working for a company, it was awesome.

China has another holiday time in October that lasts a week called National Golden Week. It doesn’t have all the trappings of Chinese New Year, but you are paid for the week. China is fairly strict about giving workers time off for this holiday and if you do work, you are paid double.

I also learned to enjoy holidays with expats from countries who came to my restaurant to celebrate their national day. Canada Day was fun as my bar served Caesars (a Bloody Mary made with clamato) in copious amounts. The restaurant did specials on grilled cheese sandwiches and poutine (a dish made with thick beef gravy on French fried potatoes with fresh cheese curds which is actually way better than it sounds). A lot of drinking games occurred on this day too.

South Africa Day was probably the foreign holiday I enjoyed celebrating the most, because of the food, drinking games and tribal dancing done by both blacks and whites in a large circle outside. I remember one year between noon and 9 p.m. this celebration killed seven kegs, 35 cases of beer, four cases of Jim Beam and practically every bottle of liquor in my bar. I had over 80 different brands on my bar, so that was no small feat. Oh yeah, the South African cream liqueur called Amarula (it is actually available in USA) was done in shots with green creme de menthe called the Springbok and I made hundreds that day. Hundreds!

Although Christmas and Thanksgiving sort of lost their specialness to me over the years I spent overseas, I did feel I was lucky to be exposed to so many other holidays.

So when I realized Thanksgiving had regained its importance in my life this season, I am now getting excited about Christmas.

Truthfully, since coming back to the USA four years ago, I have been able to celebrate Christmas with my folks in Maine one year and the other years, celebrate with my sister in Denver, so Christmas has actually been special to me for a while.

I realize the holidays have their fair share of commercialism, but I can say there is something magical about having Thanksgiving and Christmas so close together, I never really appreciated while I was living here before my years overseas.

I have great memories of celebrating other country’s holidays, but it is excellent to be enjoying the ones I grew up with once more.

I have heard once you grow up and have been out into the wide world, home will not be the same place it was when you left. Maybe the home isn’t, but the holiday feeling is. It is amazing how timeless it feels celebrating these days with loved ones.

I figured out by being away, Thanksgiving and Christmas being so close together, really is special. I hope never to lose this feeling again and doubt I will, especially as I put in more years in Wyoming.

Enjoy your holidays.


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