Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I encountered many sympathetic faces and voices when I told friends we’d be celebrating Christmas in Istanbul this year.

‘Won’t you miss your family? What will you do?’ They asked me.

I have plenty to do, and several of our expat friends are staying here in Istanbul this holiday season.

On Christmas Eve, we will attempt to recreate my husband’s family’s tradition of cooking an Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes with a lil Turklish flair, of course. I think we’ll have Turkish hamsi and midye tava on the menu. On Christmas Day, we will have a simple Italian-themed get-together with friends. 
One of the traditional Feast of Seven Fishes dishes - mussels and clams served over pasta.
I’m happy to just stay put this year in Istanbul and make new traditions with my husband and our friends.

So let’s recap what an expat Christmas entails normally entails for us in the U.S.:

Take a 10+-hour flight from Istanbul to NYC where we spend 2 or 3 days with friends and recovering from jet lag. Then, we take a connecting flight to Nebraska where we spend a week freezing our butts off with my family that I love and only get to see once a year. The upside is that I do get to eat good steak and cheap Mexican food in Nebraska. 
October 2012 - me with my mom and dad at home in Nebraska.
Then, we normally fly from Omaha to sunny North Carolina to visit the in-laws for a couple days. This year, we spent an afternoon on a boat, going to the kids’ games, making BBQ ribs at home and celebrating my husband’s and niece’s birthdays.
Our niece and nephew showing off their new Beşiktaş soccer t-shirts we bought them for Christmas.
October 2012 - celebrating Christmas with my husband's parents and his brother's family in North Carolina.
From there, we either fly or drive back with the in-laws to Pennsylvania for a few more days of Christmas cheer and proceed to visit more family in nearby New Jersey. Then, exhausted, weary eyed and now catching colds, we take the train to Penn Station in NYC. If we’re lucky, we get to spend another day or two catching up with friends in the city and stuffing our bellies with NYC pizza, Chipotle, Ramen noodles and good beer before we catch the 10.5 hour flight back to Istanbul.
I almost always brave the crowds and stop at Macy's whenever I'm in NYC.
And that my friends is how we’ve basically spent Christmases 2010 and 2011 in the U.S.

I love our families and I do genuinely miss them, but doing this kind of travel over a short span of time is truly exhausting! I don’t think anyone understands what it physically and emotionally takes to plane-hop from place to place. After coming down with bronchitis this past January, I vowed that we’d never travel to the U.S. during December – EVER!

That’s partly why we spent most of October in the U.S. this year for an early Christmas get-together with family and friends. My husband also had to renew his driver’s license in person.

We still had the same travel itinerary, but there was no pressure, no holiday madness at the airports, no congested roads and not much battling of the mass commercialism that is a U.S. Christmas (unfortunately). It was the ideal answer to our expat holiday woes!

In Istanbul, we’ve decorated our small Christmas tree. We’ve been listening to Christmas songs now and then, and I’ve done some holiday baking. It feels like Christmas to me. 

Plus, I just have to walk up the hill to see: Christmas in Istanbul’s Nişantaşı neighborhood
Our humble Christmas tree surrounded by my cookbooks.
This year, we’ll celebrate Christmas with our families remotely via Skype.

Will you be celebrating the holidays abroad or at home this year?

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BacktoBodrum said...

Wishing you a very Happy Christmas.

Natalie - TTB said...

I can not be bothered with a four hour flight, never mind a 10 hour flight so understand how you feel. Weird as well but for some reason, I always thought your husband was Turkish. Not sure where I got that idea from

Joy said...

@BacktoBodrum, wishing you a Merry Christmas as well! Looks like we may have a white Christmas in Istanbul afterall if this weather keeps up!

@Natalie, Yes, the flying and all the connecting flights are horrible, esp. in December. Ha ha...have you not seen the blonde-haired photos of my yabanci husband here? ;-) The 2 of us together totally stand out when we are in small Turkish villages.

Alyson said...

We are celebrating away from the US this year too. I love seeing family, but always need a vacation from our "vacation" after going back to the US!

Anonymous said...

We are celebrating away from where we were born and raised for similar reasons I see, we also have our family get-together earlier, I'm in Sweden in November every year. I really dont want to travel when everybody else is and I prefer to see friends and family when they, too, aren't completely stressed out. Enjoy a fun and different Christmas! .

Anonymous said...

Oh, and that's me, Ann-Katrin, btw

jasna varcakovic said...

East meeting West...take the best!:-)

Joy said...

@Alyson, I totally know what you mean! Every year, even after our US trip in October, I always get a bad cold. Too many types of transportation and germs so I always get sick. Merry Christmas to you!

@Ann-Katrin, yes I know you can relate. Enjoy your holidays with friends too!

@Jansa, Nice, I like that. ;-)

Michael said...

Yes, I can identify with the burdens of Christmas travel. Since we retired we usually return to the states for at least a month for that very reason.
Last Christmas we were in Prague which is FANTASTIC! This Christmas we are in Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland where everything closes for two days but we will endure it because in January we go to Istanbul for two weeks.

Catherine Yiğit said...

We've been celebrating here for the last 8 years, after a Christmas Eve trip home involved delayed flights and a cranky baby. It was incredibly stressful.
We don't have the advantage of Nisantasi close at hand but we do the best in our living room. Santa comes, I cook like crazy. We'll have mince pies, gingerbread, Christmas pudding, brandy butter, turkey and zeytinyagli. It's been great to build our own traditions.

Killu said...

Thanks, Joy, for sharing this! I could have written the same story. Delayed flights, lot of travelling, bad traffic, sick kids... Trying to make everyone happy, but being miserable ourselves. So we have decided to stay as well, after 2 years of travelling back home, for the first time in our expat life, we celebrate Christmas in Turkey. And it still looks the same- a real Christmas tree, decorations in all the rooms, lots of presents, Christmas songs. And yes, of course the food...Gingerbread, sour bread, sauerkraut. Our traditions involve pork, pork, pork, so we try to get that. Everything else I can cook or substitue :) ANd by the way, if you havent came across yet, I´m sure Michael Bubles christmas song will get you in the right mood straight away :) Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Joy said...

@Michael, I've heard Christmas in Prague is just beautiful! Hopefully, someday. Ireland is also on our dream vacation list. Wishing you safe travels and hope you enjoy your time here in Istanbul!

@Catherine, I can only imagine what it's like traveling with little ones during the crazy holidays! I love the traditions you mentioned. I've never had a Christmas pudding or brandy butter, but they sound delicious! Happy holidays to you and your family here!

Joy said...

@Killu, thanks for sharing your similar story! I think Christmas can be whatever you want it to be WHEREVER you are. Sounds like that's exactly what you've done too. I love your pork tradition - I wish we could have a roasted pork tenderloin. I do have some American bacon in the freezer though. ;-) Wishing a Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Kim, Living to Seas the Moment said...

Merry Christmas from NC! This will be our 4th set of holidays away from OK and all of our family/friends. While we also miss our family and friends (the holidays were almost always celebrated at our house with a bunch of loved ones) we have found that our new traditions are wondeful and relaxing! We are still trying to convince some of them to travel here for the holidays but they seem to think the road TO OK is much shorter than the one TO us LOL! Our new neighbors share your hubby's traditions of the Italian feast of fish over pasta. YUMM!! Have a wonderful celebration!

Karen said...

I would love to read a post about all of your cookbooks and which ones you like best! I love hard copy cookbooks. My children like to cook off the internet. It just doesn't feel the same to me.

Joy said...

@Karen, great idea about the cookbooks! I'll save it for a future post in 2013.

@Kim, Merry Christmas to you and your family too! I think it's funny what people think about distance and traveling sometimes. Sigh. It was fun to make our own traditions together as a couple too!