In the eight years that I’ve been in Madrid, I’ve never fully loved spending the holidays abroad without my family. Many people have told me some horror stories about their families and why they don’t get along with them. However, that’s never been my experience. Although I come from a single-parent home, my mother’s family is extremely close. It didn’t occur to me that my family was a little different than others until I got older. My mother’s four brothers protected, guided, and spoiled me rotten. Instead of a “daddy’s girl,” you could definitely call me an “uncle’s girl.” Anyone that has known me for a significant amount of time can tell you that I can go on and on about my uncles and the bond that I have with all six of them at length, my dad’s two brothers included.
I especially love celebrating Christmas with my uncle Ricky. He’s my favorite of all my uncles and always has been. We’ve been close since I came into this world. It’s no family secret that Uncle Ricky has a favorite niece whom he affectionately refers to as Baby Love (and that’s definitely a reference to the song by the Supremes).
I feel like the real reason I’m such a jet setter is that I constantly saw my uncle packing his things into a suitcase and traveling all around the world when I was a kid. He did a semester abroad and has sung at so many places in Europe. Uncle Ricky has never truly revealed how many places he has been to and performed at, and I suspect he never will. He always brought me back something from his travels, whether a memory or a souvenir. I most remember admiring a teddy bear that wore a London T-shirt that used to sit in his bedroom. It really didn’t belong to me, but he never minded if I played with it when I visited.
The Holiday Season
Christmases with Uncle Ricky were always the best because he’s the most cheerful of my grandmother’s seven children. He’d always stop by my grandmother’s house and put on the Christmas music. I remember the year that SWV came out with their Christmas album and he put on Coko’s rendition of Give Love on Christmas Day. It’s been one of my favorite Christmas carols ever since.
Once Uncle Ricky purchased his home, he went all out and bought everyone stockings. He took special care to make the house, which is always well decorated, nice and cozy. All the art in my uncle’s home has a very special meaning. We would pick out a different piece at street festivals or cultural events. He’d always ask me for my opinion before he bought something. At eight and nine years old, it made me feel important.
Christmas at Uncle Ricky’s always has a full spread of southern soul food made by my mom, aunts, uncles, and grandmother. My mom’s mac and cheese and collard greens never fails to steal the show. My Uncle Bill is always responsible for the turkeys. He fries one and jerks and seasons the other to perfection. We all get together at Uncle Ricky’s in the evening because my Uncle Pierre and Aunt Belinda are both police officers and often have to work the holiday. After dinner, dessert, and cocktails, we open presents and share stories, memories, and laughs.
Some friends of the family sometimes join the immediate family. Even if a random person stops by, uncle Ricky makes sure that there is something under the tree for them to unwrap. We never discuss rules about gifting in my family. My grandmother and her children are very close. We buy a present for each person, no matter how big or small it needs to be. Because the immediate family is so large, each person walks away with at least six or seven gifts. I have brought friends home with me on occasion who have expressed the fact that their Christmas experiences hadn’t been the greatest. I have never failed to create a magical experience for them. Well, not me… but my family and our genuine love we have for each other.
Since moving abroad, every Christmas — except for my first two years — hasn’t lived up to the magic of Uncle Ricky’s house. I have since lost both of my grandfathers during December, a year apart from one another, eerily enough on the same day. It has never truly felt like the holidays without my family. I have always heard of the term ”Holiday Blues,” but had no idea what it truly meant.
In my experience, it just comes over you without warning. I believe it strikes as you watch people celebrate the holidays and talk about their holiday plans. The depression, or blues, comes about because you cannot relate. There is no dinner for you to attend, no relatives to expect. Even if someone chooses to take pity on you and invite you to spend the day with their family, spending the holidays abroad isn’t quite the same as being home with your family.
I have been invited to Christmas and New Year’s celebrations with groups of friends and even friends’ families. There always seems to be a portion of the evening or day’s festivities where I’m just overcome with sadness. It’s inexplicable and has always happened to me suddenly. I had always excitedly anticipated these invitations, gotten myself all dressed up, only to feel so very empty inside the day of. It’s a very embarrassing experience to have to excuse your feelings. I always feel the need to put on the appearance of being content and grateful to be present.
At the beginning of this year, I lost my father’s mother, Grandma Linda, to cancer. Words cannot express the grief I have endured over the past few months. She was such an important figure in my life. We had a special bond because she never had daughters. I was the only girl she could pass on her legacy to. We shared so many special memories together.
Making My Own Traditions During the Holidays Abroad
I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues, and I came to the realization that the reason the holidays have always been so pleasant before is that there were people making sure that I had memories to look back on. My mother, grandmothers, aunts, and uncles have had the reins for so long. I think this year should be my turn. I’m in my mid-thirties now and it is time to start making some of my own traditions. I have even decorated my house a little for the holidays, which I have NEVER done.
This holiday season will represent reciprocity. I have been so fortunate to have the love and support of so many people who cared enough about me to keep the magic of Christmas alive. I think it’s high time that I return the favor. Although I’m unable to travel home this year, I’m going to make my presence felt by letting each one of my loved ones know how much they mean to me, even if it is just a small gesture or a hand-written card. This year, I’m making the most of the holidays abroad.