As I was buying my ticket to teach in Costa Rica for ten months back in 2010, my Mom said to me, “You don’t need to come home for Christmas–just enjoy Christmas in Costa Rica!” So I booked my flight for later that month and my return trip for ten months later.
As Christmas approached, I found out that many of my fellow teachers were flying home for Christmas, and I was going to be alone in Costa Rica and had two weeks off of work. One missionary family needed a house-sitter while they went to the beach, so I had a change of place to live and a change of pace to my life.
I slept, I cooked more. I ran. Some missionary families were still around, so they invited me to have Christmas dinner with them. I made a fruit salad with starfruit on top.
My favorite part of that Christmas without being with family was how I could still celebrate Jesus’ birth with other believers: I figured out how to take the bus downtown, and I went to this small English-speaking Episcopal Church that welcomed me.
After the service, I walked through the sunshine to the flower vendors and bought myself a big tropical bouquet of flowers with money my brother had sent me to buy something fun.
As I walked down the cobble-stone street in downtown San Jose with the flowers in the crook of my arm, the big Catholic Church a ways down the street just started ringing its bells. I experienced what the song says, “I heard the bells on Christmas day…” and it made me so happy!
Here’s a little of what I learned from the experience of being away from family on Christmas:
Choose to have a positive attitude even if you are alone! I enjoyed buying those flowers, and being out and about on Christmas Day.
Enjoy the setting you are in. That Christmas was my first warm, tropical Christmas, so having palm trees, mango and avocado trees, and blooming flowers around helped me greatly and brought me joy.
That Christmas was the first time I attended a Christmas Day service, and that was a beautiful way to celebrate Jesus’ birth with other Christians. Church is a great place to go when you are alone.
If you can call and talk to your family, do it! Enjoy talking or Skyping them, and the next time when you can be with them at Christmas time, you will be even more thankful for those times. I listened to music and that helped me not feel alone. Family sent little packages and fun cards that brightened up Christmas Day by being able to open them then. Enjoy the people that are in your life right now.
So, for those of you who are away from family this Christmas: Remember that you are not alone. Jesus left his father to come to a strange, new place, so he can understand what you are feeling. Reach out to the people that are around you and enjoy what you have in that new place where you are living, and have a beautiful Christmas!