Holidays in the land of Narnia

Culture, Family

Another November is upon us, the weather is getting colder, windier, and altogether unpleasant. Amid the busy-ness of life in general, we are about to enter the American holiday season — an undeniably important time of year, regardless of our location outside of our American homeland.

“Always winter, never Christmas”

Christmas and Thanksgiving are two of those elements of American culture that we Americans take for granted — everyone celebrates them, everyone thinks they’re important. We take them for granted, until we suddenly find ourselves in an environment where no one celebrates them.

The majority of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina come from a Muslim background, and therefore obviously don’t observe Christian holidays. On top of that, a significant minority are Orthodox Christian, and celebrate Christmas on January 7. That leaves you, if you’re an American, left with the Catholics — who, while they do still observe December 25 as the birthday of our Lord, have holiday traditions that would seem completely foreign to the average American.

This can leave an unsuspecting expatriate in an unexpected place as the weather begins to turn cold. There was a point when our family realized that, if we were to survive the holiday season with the familiar trappings of togetherness and warmth that we all craved, we were going to have to do some very intentional things.

Be resourceful, but content

I can remember one year baking a turkey with an incredibly elaborate recipe, one that required making a spreading homemade spiced butter underneath the turkey’s skin, and visiting every shop in the city in search of sage. Other years, I can remember driving an hour or more from my house to find a place where my family could cut down a live Christmas tree to bring back to our house. In more recent years, I’ve looked back on those experiences and thought, “Why?”


Boil things down

The problem with those experiences was that they required very high investment of time and effort, with seemingly little to offer in return. After reflecting on why I felt that way, I was able to pinpoint just what it was that I wanted out of the holidays: a warm house, time with my family, and good memories.

All the decorations and trappings of “Christmas” didn’t really help us capture the things that I was after, and in the end they obscured what, to me, has been the thing that has made Thanksgiving and Christmas good, when it has been good. The warm house is a place of refuge and rest; time with my family is certainly fleeting during the rest of the year; good memories give us the fuel we need to jump in to the New Year.

Recognize your limits

The turkey I mentioned above also highlighted another thing — while I love good food, there is a limit to how good food can be. It might be a truly great turkey recipe, but if I need to give up my family time in order to make it, then it’s not worth the investment. I can make a perfectly good turkey with a much smaller investment of time.

There are many other things — decorating the house, buying gifts, hosting parties — that this lesson applies to as well. There are so many “good” things I can do in an effort to make the holidays special, but many times they can prevent the holidays from being special on their own.


These are just some things I’ve learned over years of spending Christmases and Thanksgivings outside America. Things are not always as we thought they would be, but we can experience success if we are patient and hopeful. I hope that your holiday season is a time of refreshment and rejuvenation for you, as we draw closer to the close of another year.

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