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By Adriana Clifford

Tis the season to be… sandy? Too hot? Missing family?

A few months after we arrived at our new duty station, Bahrain, I wasn’t sure. I tried my hardest to investigate what exactly the holiday season plus the Middle East equaled before we arrived.

“Should we even pack our Christmas decorations?” I remember asking my husband during our pack out with anxiety and a bit of annoyance in my voice.

“Who knows… but bring them anyway. You never know” he said. God bless my husband and his eternal optimism.

“I’m sure they celebrate Christmas. Be positive.” “They’re a Western-friendly country; it’ll be fine.” “If it’s inside your house, who will ever know?” These thoughts, as well as a myriad of others, ran through my head on a constant loop.

For our family, the holidays is a time of enjoyment regardless of circumstance. Near or far from each other or our families, we always make the best of it. While the holidays can be a time of sadness for some, especially those geographically separated or in a new place, believe me when I say that it doesn’t have to be. Here’s my spin on making overseas holiday traditions your own no matter where you are:

Seek guidance

globe from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Neil Tackaberry, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

Fear of the unknown was at the heart of my holiday anxiety. The greatest asset I quickly made use of was the cultural advisor for our command. Seek this person out and speak to them about what life is like in your new country. Had I not done this I would have held onto some of my self-created myths completely unnecessarily.

Deck your halls

Blue Spruce 2011 Christmas Tree Shopping and Decorating November 27, 2011 1 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Steven Depolo, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

As a rule, our Christmas tree has always gone up the weekend after Thanksgiving. We get up early, enjoy a big breakfast, and head out the find the perfect tree. Being overseas is no different. Instead of hitting up the local Christmas tree farm, we headed to our base to find the perfect artificial tree. Our approach to the day was the same as it was every other year; we just had to adjust and use our imagination.

Pound the pavement

How to make holiday traditions when your family is OCONUS
Photo: Adriana Clifford

Walking in and around your neighborhood will open your eyes and mind, to things you would otherwise miss seeing. In Bahrain, hotels, restaurants, and shops become filled with Christmas trees, lights, and garland. Our neighbor had a manager set up in their front yard. Much like the states, the local home decor stores were flooded with holiday decorations immediately following Halloween. You never know what you may find.

Expect the unexpected

IMG_1433 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Rory, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

The local shop owners in Bahrain seem to love Christmas as much as Americans. As you leave their shops, they are sure to give you an early Christmas present from them to you. Genuine, kind gestures like this have the power to make you feel closer to home than you really are.

Embrace your base

Photo: MWR Bahrain

Our installation kicks off the holiday season with a holiday show followed by a tree lighting and Santa and Mrs. Claus arriving on their camel. There’s even fake snow falling from the sky during the entire holiday event. While some may be inclined to avoid their base, I don’t know where we would be without it. For us, this time of year feels like we have the biggest extended family in the world… and it’s amazing. Utilize the members of your base community to create this feeling for yourself.

Santa Claus IS coming to town

Photo: Adriana Clifford

“How will Santa find us all the way over here?!” That’s burning question on the minds of children here in Bahrain. Luckily, the answer arrived in the form of a children’s book. Here on our island, Santa Is Coming to the Kingdom of Bahrain by Steve Smallman has become as magical as The Polar Express. Look at your local book and home center stores to find Christmas books specific to where you live. Steve Smallman has tons of location-specific Santa Is Coming… and you can order them online from Source Books.

Become a tourist

Children from a Bahrain School sing Christmas carols. from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Official U.S. Navy Page, Flickr | GOV | via Wylio

Pretend you’re on vacation! Subscribe to local newsletters and like local attractions and hotels’ Facebook pages. Gingerbread house decorating, Christmas movie nights, candy cane hunts, tree lightings and Christmas Day brunch are just some of the things available to us here in Bahrain. Chances are your community offers similar events to enjoy with your family.

Try something new

Bahrain Fort from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 Monica D., Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

This year will be the first Christmas we do not stay home. We are opting to travel together and see Christmas through the eyes of another country. Will we enjoy this? It’s too soon to tell, but we are excited at the possibilities this experience can bring. If you’re feeling a bit stuck or down in the dumps about the holidays, consider shaking things up entirely and venturing somewhere new… or go back to an old favorite.

Being far away from everything that you’ve ever known is never easy. I think we just get better at it with each turn of the calendar. No matter if you stay home this holiday season or scratch your wanderlust itch, remember that you’re making new memories and beginning new traditions. Wherever the holidays find you this year, it will be nothing short of incredible.

How to make holiday traditions when your family is OCONUSAdriana is a military spouse currently living in Bahrain with her husband who is an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps. She has a background in Human Resources & Business Consultancy and a tremendous love for writing. While in Bahrain, she works as the Career Transition Trainer of their installation where she assists separating and retiring members of the military community make their next move into the civilian world. She also volunteers her time to serve as the president of the installation’s FRG. When she’s not working or volunteering she enjoys writing, reading, spending time with her dog and taking advantage of the travel opportunities available to herself and her husband. To keep up with her adventures, visit her blog Ades Adventures.

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