December 2011


It is now ten days away from Christmas, and even for those who don’t check their calendars often it is pretty apparent.  All one must do to be reminded that Christmas Day is quickly approaching is head to the nearest mall, sit at a table in the food court, and watch people run around with eyes bulging out of their heads, nostrils flared, and various shopping bags swinging from their tense arms.  In D.C., shoppers like myself who chose to get their Christmas gifts early (thank you, online shopping) are pretty much avoiding the stores at all costs until after the new year.  I personally don’t really see the merit in trying to get something on sale if you risk being trampled in the process.

The main thing I’m focusing on now is the fact that this year’s Christmas will be very unique, and will entail the exploration of previously undiscovered territory.  In the past, to be sure, I’ve been blessed to have some unique Christmas experiences–Christmas in South Korea (beautiful, except that I was violently ill from Korean food and water-related organisms unknown to my American intestinal system), Christmas in Rome with my family, and of course, many Christmases spent with my family in Texas.  This Christmas, however, will be unlike any other I’ve experienced.

To expound, this Christmas will be my first Christmas as an engaged woman.  It is a transition for any guy or girl experiencing their first Christmas with a fiancé or spouse, and it appears to be a trial-and-error kind of process.  After all, when you’re single, you only have one person’s schedule to coordinate, and one set of family members to consider visiting (in most cases).  However, when you’re engaged and/or married, there are suddenly two sets of families to think of, two sets of schedules to coordinate, and two airplane seats to book instead of one.

Case in point:  Months ago, Leon and I sat down to have a “meeting” about how to organize our Christmas plans.  His family is in Colorado, while mine is in Texas, so there were the obvious geographical considerations to mull over.  Besides that, our families had respective Christmas traditions, like the fact that my family usually opened presents on Christmas morning and both of our families usually went to church on Christmas Eve.  We wanted to find a reasonable solution to the often stressful dilemma that engaged or married couples face of trying to spend time with both sets of families.

After a brainstorming session, we both agreed that even though it seemed insane, we wanted to see both families during our first Christmas as an engaged couple.  So, we both said a prayer and booked tickets to fly to Texas for a couple of days to visit my family and exchange presents on Christmas morning, then fly to Colorado on Christmas afternoon to visit Leon’s family for a couple of days.  At least, we told ourselves, that way we’ll be with both families on December 25.

The reaction we received from engaged/married friends, who all admitted that planning holidays had sometimes caused squabbles or anxiety attacks, was pretty mixed.  Some thought that the idea was great; others thought that we had bitten off way more peppermint bark than we could chew.

It’s a natural learning process, I was also told by friends who had experienced the transition before, to navigate the new waters of stewarding scarce holiday vacation days from work between respective families.  One sage friend told us to be patient, that along the way feelings would get hurt, or we would find ourselves exhausted from trying to spend appropriate amounts of time with each family, and that we had to allow ourselves (and our families) extra grace during present and future holidays.  Sound advice, I thought–after all, Jesus is the reason for the season, and it would cheat everyone of the full meaning of Christmas if the focus was solely on travel arrangements.

So, we’re going to do our best, try to enjoy next week, and cherish the precious time that we are thankful to have with each of our families.  We’re also going to pray that bad weather, i.e. slick Texas sleet or heavy Colorado snow, doesn’t attack our carefully coordinated plans.

As I mused over what to write about this week, my friend and co-worker Lisa suggested that I consider thinking about Christmas gifts that travelers would enjoy.  After all, according to the calendar, Christmas is in just a couple of weeks.

I do have to confess that, personally, I’m done with my Christmas shopping.  I’ve never been attracted to the idea of hitting the mall (or any store, even the grocery store) in the days leading up to Christmas, when everyone is frantically making last-minute purchases.  Images in the news of people pepper spraying each other at Wal-Mart and the thought of being trampled in the name of sales only solidified my decision to avoid this year’s crowds.

If, however, you are still trying to figure out what to get for the traveler in your life, I did some thinking and tried to compile a list of possible gift ideas.  Now, this is just off the top of my head, so I’m sure I’ve missed some–feel free to include your own suggestions in the comment section.

Here’s what I thought of after brainstorming for a few minutes:

–A world map with colored pins.  My mother gave me one a few years ago, and I absolutely love it.  It’s a framed map that hangs on the wall, and it comes with different colored pins for you to designate places you’ve been and places you’d like to go.

–A passport holder.  They come all sorts of colors and styles, and they protect your passport while you’re out and about.

–A language book, language dictionary, or even language class.  Giving the gift of knowledge is always a benefit to the receiver, and encouraging a traveler to keep up a language or learn a new one is no exception.  This year Leon is thinking of giving me an English and Italian Bible (don’t worry, we decided to discuss our gifts to each other beforehand, so there was no breach of secrecy), and I told him that I thought it was a fantastic idea.

–A new piece of luggage or luggage accessory.  Travelers tend to beat up their luggage pretty quickly, especially if they’re traveling to remote parts of the world.  I’ve received several travel makeup bags, travel backpacks, luggage tags, and other luggage-related gifts over the years, and I have appreciated them all.

–A universal plug adapter.  It’s not the most romantic/sentimental gift, but boy are they one of the best tools ever for travelers.  I bought one a few years ago, and it takes the guesswork out of making sure you have the correct adapter for whichever region/country/continent you’re traveling to.

–A notebook (preferably small to fit easily into carry-ons or backpacks).  I’m always writing things down when I travel, whether a new phrase I learned in Hindi or the name of a newly discovered coffee shop in Italy.  Having a cute notebook handy is not only helpful, but you also have a written memento of your trip afterwards.

And last but certainly not least…

–An actual travel opportunity!  This doesn’t mean you have to give all of your friends plane tickets to Bali for Christmas; a weekend getaway from Groupon, for instance, might be something to consider getting a spouse, close friend, or family member.  When Leon took me to New York for my 29th birthday, it was an incredible time for us to take a mental break from D.C., eat some good NY style pizza, and have some quality time together.  We didn’t have to leave the country (although we hope to do more international travel together soon) to have a travel adventure, and it was a birthday I’ll never forget.

To be sure, Christmas gifts are not the reason why we celebrate Christmas–we celebrate the birth of Christ.  Presents, in their purest form, are simply a conduit through which we can show our affection and appreciation for loved ones, by gifting them with things that they’ll enjoy (hopefully–there is a reason why re-gifting happens frequently).

Not that our Savior wouldn’t have an appreciation for travel items.  After all, He was a traveler Himself, from the time when Joseph and Mary escaped from Bethlehem to Egypt with baby Jesus during the reign of King Herod.