Coworkers could stop asking if it was my first holiday away from home. Neighbors could hold the sympathetic comments, like “Guess it’s what you grew up with,” and “Just have to make the most of it.” I hoped their beach barbeques broke down and their post-celebratory hangovers lasted through January.
Because sometimes, making the most of a place doesn’t make it better. Especially at Christmas.
For the first time in four festive seasons abroad, I failed to find improvement in my current location. Tasmania could slide down to the South Pole for all I cared. It would be The Worst Christmas Ever, and nothing anyone said or did could change that.
Due to my distant location, presents were absent. I found no church service or spirited carols; no green bean casserole or honey-glazed ham; no family dinner and no morning discovery of Santa-stuffed stockings.
How could I make the most of somewhere that reminded me of everywhere I was not?
And then housemate Ben brought in the tree. He dragged the rather ragged clump of branches in from the bushland behind our house and decorated them with donated baubles. At the sight of this traditional decoration, adapted to our current environment, I slid into tears.
It was the simplest gesture, a heart-felt effort to instill a bit of cheer into our living space. And in my wallowing mood, I hated it – so different from my Black Hills hand-chopped pine tree.
But in its own way, it was (begrudgingly) perfect for here.
As Australian as the feast of freshly caught fish that followed. Sharing Flathead and local pate with new acquaintances on Friendly Beach, I struggled to claim “Still the worst Christmas,” without smiling. When Mr. Claus appeared, I even upgraded the celebration to Second-Worst.
On December 25th, I learned that making the most of a place simply means allowing it to be. Choosing neutrality over dislike, and trying not to paint the town black- however much you want to.
Like Christmas, it’s about recognizing the difference between good and bad, and being respectful of the experiences that lie in between.