I’ve had the opportunity to write a previous blog post about celebrating the 4th of July while in Jordan–a unique experience of mashing together very different cultures and time periods–and I’ve had to continue this trend of celebrating holidays (particularly American-specific holidays) in other countries this year. And while this isn’t the first year I’ve spent away from the States during holidays, it is the first time I’ve been abroad and separated from my family. But despite this, I still spent a really good time with really good people.
The feeling of the holiday season for me actually started a week before Halloween, when Rod and Michelle Reed visited us here in Northern Ireland. I hadn’t realized how nice it was to see a face from home and have guests over until they came, and suddenly it felt like we were having relatives over for the holidays. Their time here was really fun, and I want to say thank you to both of them for their willingness to spend time getting to know all of us as we trekked through Tollymore Forest, went to the movie theater in Belfast, and got to eat Rod’s delicious lasagna and chocolate cake. All of us here were saddened to learn soon after of Rod’s decision to leave JBU, but we were excited as well for the new opportunities for their family, so I want to extend to them here my thanks and well wishes.
Halloween a week later was an exciting time for me especially. I’ve always been partial to the holiday: when I was little, my older sister Marianna and I would view it as a challenge to create ridiculously ambitious homemade costumes, and would start as early as July in our planning. I still remember with no little amount of chagrin and amusement the year she successfully pulled off creating her Jedi robes, and I absolutely did not pull off making my Padmé costume–I was an overly-ambitious perfectionist even at age eleven.
While my enthusiasm for costuming has died down over the years, I still enjoy Halloween. We celebrated it here at Lakeside with a nice dinner, pumpkin carving, and games. Unfortunately for me, I ended up missing a large chunk of the evening due to a slight pumpkin carving mishap and went to the hospital for a cut on my finger. Everything turned out alright in the end–and I have to thank our director here, John, for taking me to see the doctor and sorting everything out–but I’ll be a bit more careful when approaching pumpkins with knives in the future! The good news is, everyone else’s pumpkins turned out looking fabulous!
I have to preface writing about our Thanksgiving experience with explaining something about me: fall is my favorite season, and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I can turn into a bit of a Grinch when it comes to beginning to celebrate Christmas; I’m all for throwing up the Christmas lights and busting out my best rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”–annoying all of my friends and family incessantly in the process–as long as it’s the day after Thanksgiving, so if the Christmas season starts early I tend to jokingly protest. Here in Northern Ireland however they don’t have Thanksgiving, and as a team we don’t have the chance to celebrate Christmas together, so I tried to be more flexible (key word being “tried”) when the house was decorated for Christmas over a week before Thanksgiving.
But even I had to agree that Thanksgiving here couldn’t have been better, even with all the Christmas wreaths and lights already in place. Everyone helped in some way, either with food, cleaning, or in my case table decorations, and it was so rewarding to see the fruit of our efforts when we sat down to a long, candlelit table full of delicious comfort food. One memory I especially want to remember is that of Hadden Wilson–a lovely older Irish gentleman and guest lecturer for us–teaching us to sing traditional pub songs while we laughed and did our best to “put more enthusiasm into it” while enjoying our covenant-approved non-alcoholic beverages.
If I had to choose a way to spend fall festivities apart from my family, my time here at Lakeside is the way to go. I can’t stress enough how special the group here is to me: I believe I have been blessed with a very special team to be in Ireland with, and I’m so glad I chose fall 2018 to go on the trip. They have made me feel like part of a family here for the holidays, and I think we have all helped each other get through the homesickness of missing out on family traditions and memories of back home. So while I’m looking forward to going home to be with my family in a week for Christmas break, I’ll always look back on this fall as an excellent holiday season.