Home(sick) For the Holidays

You cannot predict it. It’s invisible. The symptoms are not obvious like a cold, a fever, a stomach-ache. It comes on swiftly and unexpectedly, overwhelms immediately. It’s the inability to control, the surprise with which it comes, and the intense pain that comes with it.

“It” is homesickness. Physical symptoms do come later – inability to concentrate, dry mouth, feeling of being close to tears all the time, not sleeping well. But initially it is invisible.

I think that’s why the Angels from the Rooftops post resonated with so many readers of Communicating Across Boundaries. Many of you know what it’s like to be homesick during the holidays. My mom’s story of loneliness and vulnerability in a strange place put into words what so many of us have felt.

For me it always happened on Christmas Eve. Suddenly our normal expat life and activities in Cairo were not enough. We needed family. Like aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, cousins — the people who aren’t allowed to not like you. The ones that stick to us with family glue whether we like it or not.

As our young family left the candle-light Christmas Eve service a catch in the throat would get us. Suddenly we didn’t seem like enough for each other. It felt like we were too small, too fragile, unable to make it on our own.

Christmas day was alive with activity and an annual open house at my friend20121216-084606.jpg Betsy’s house – open to so many of us who were without family. There we would talk and eat, help put together their mandatory Christmas puzzle, and sip the only spiked eggnog in the country of Egypt. Christmas day never felt lonely or alone — it was Christmas Eve.

Even as I write this I know there are those of you whose throats are catching and tears welling up, tears that you try to push back into your tear ducts.

While everyone else is home for the holidays, you are homesick.

You can just taste your sister’s mulled wine; hear your mom’s voice; picture the scene in a living room. It’s you who are making a home in other parts of the world, creating wonder in a foreign land. This post is for you.

My friend Martha has lived overseas for many years and understands the joys and challenges that come with the expatriate life. She writes this and I offer it to you:

It was Christmas 1981 and we were missionaries with CCC; I was pregnant with Jeremy and horribly ill with constant morning sickness and facing the holiday knowing that it would be three years before we would see our families again. We didn’t have a car yet (we were using a staff member’s motorcycle), had lived without electricity in our maisonette for weeks. there was a bittersweetness as Mark and I made aluminum foil decorations and tried to find humble gifts to buy each other in Nairobi. Then how happy we were when a staff family invited us over to spend Christmas Day with them with a turkey dinner and a day of great food, playing games and talking. I felt like I had been transported back to America and to family. I felt God’s mercy that day and the hope of joy and his love.

May you – you who are homesick, fighting back tears, not sure what this season will hold, feel God’s mercy, the hope of joy, and His all-sufficient, never-ending, constantly surprising love.

6 thoughts on “Home(sick) For the Holidays

  1. Oh, how well I know that description of homesickness. I felt it all through missionary kid high school, and then college in the U.S. My freshman year in college I went to a friend’s place in central Washington state for Christmas. I missed my parents so much that my mind made up a scenario that they would show up and surprise me for Christmas. It was such a clear story that I went out and shoveled their LONG drive of snow on Christmas eve, watching down the road for them to appear, even though logically I knew they wouldn’t be able to come. Finally it got dark, and I went inside with a huge lump in my throat and stone in my heart, and participated in gift-opening with the dear family of my roommate, who had invited me to their place for Christmas. Thank goodness for them, and for all those big-hearted people out there who have looked after the homesick missionaries and missionary kids over the years. They are our extended family.


    1. Yes Ginger. What you said. I remember going to a friend’s my second year and the sense of disconnect, yet I was so grateful to them. The huge ‘extended family’ of the third culture kid is an essay of its own. Thank you.


  2. I so deeply understand that horrible disease. This year my aunt and uncle, my cousins and their families, my brother and sister-in-law and my new nephew, my parents will all be together for Christmas in Vancouver. And I will be here in Kansas. My husband Lowell leaves on Boxing Day for a work trip. It will be a quiet strange holiday. Already the homesickness symptoms are coming on….I can feel them….
    Thank you for this “Get Well Card” for those of us who are “sick”. You did make me cry…but that’s not always a bad thing.


    1. Robynn – first off – I can’t believe WordPress posted YOU as anonymous! You are so not anonymous! I feel your homesickness acutely. Thinking of you during this time. Any chance you will get to go after Christmas?


  3. I am sending this to Alissa in Nairobi…..she will be spending Christmas without her family. (but we will be with her January 3-17!) Also, I remember going to Betsy’s parents’ house every year for their big open house–wonderful memories!


    1. Janet – so glad you are sending this. So cool that you remember the McCarthy’s open house! So that’s where the tradition came from! There was something about knowing we didn’t have to plan – that all the food, fun, and friends would be present. So excited for you and your trip. Cannot wait to see pictures and hear.


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