Missionary Kids and the Holidays


The holidays are a bittersweet time for missionary kids. Growing up, we didn’t see our loved ones on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead, we would invite another missionary family over so that there would be lots of people to eat the turkey, giving the illusion that we were surrounded by family. After all, we called all the missionaries “aunt” and “uncle.” They were our only extended family unless we were on furlough.

Christmases on furlough were completely different because you might actually see some extended family members. But you were so busy going from church to church and singing the same songs in front of everybody that furlough was just a spectacle after all. A spectacle punctuated by friendly faces of people who you were supposed to know but didn’t because you never saw them, even though you were blood related.


And of course, if we had Christmas in the States, we wouldn’t have tamales and fireworks at midnight, and what kind of Christmas is it without those childhood traditions? At least both places had candlelight services, and both had Christmas trees with presents under them.

So Christmas was odd in the States, but in some ways it was way better because we could see Grandma and Grandpa.

To complicate matters, being an international person caused me to move to England my senior year of college. And then I didn’t have enough money to fly home for Christmas, so I spent Christmas in England. I was 21, so the family I spent Christmas with served us white wine with Christmas dinner. It was so bitter that I excused myself from the table to spit it out in the sink. And while I was over the sink, I thought of how Christmas crackers in England reminded me of fireworks in Guatemala, and I felt homesick for a land where I never belonged.


When I moved back to the States from England, I had happy memories of my year in England, and I wanted to move back. After getting my teaching degree, back I went to teach at an American school in London. And I was happy to pull Christmas crackers and wear paper crowns.

Now that I’m married and have made my own little family in the States, I insist on tamales, fireworks, Christmas crackers, and paper crowns, and I have folded in any traditions my husband wanted. A complicated and strange set of traditions, but it’s the only way I feel home for Christmas.

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16 Responses to “Missionary Kids and the Holidays”

  1. Misty says:

    What a great peek into life as a missionary kid. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    • Susan says:

      I always feel nostalgia and a mixture of happiness and sadness at Christmas because I can never celebrate Christmas the way I did when I lived in Guatemala as a child.

  2. I think every family folds in the traditions that mean something to them. We may not be the only house on our block with an Asian nativity set, but we’re probably the only tree here with Chinese flag ornaments on it.

  3. We always did the same traditions every year and I get feeling nostalgic at Christmas time to replicate some of those things. So I hear you on how it can be bittersweet.

    However, you and I are creating our own memories and traditions for our children… how precious is that?!

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Melissa says:

    Thank you for sharing so many aspects of being a missionary child that very few of us understand or every experienced!

  5. Edith says:

    I love the aspect of calling other missionaries aunts and uncles. We do that in Africa a lot. In fact, we call other kids’ parents daddy and mummy and unmarried adults Sister or Brother (note the capitals) as well, a variant for us of aunt and uncle.

  6. Julie says:

    Sounds like you experienced a lot as a young girl! What a blessing to your kids to be able to teach and let them experience what you did through your family traditions!

    • Susan says:

      I have had more experiences than most kids who have only lived in one place. It opens your eyes to understanding things from a different perspective.

  7. I loved reading your personal memories of during the holidays. I especially adore your idea of tamales and fireworks! Christmas with a bang! <3 Thank you for sharing, and giving a bit of perspective on how everyone's traditions are different! Also, I'm a bit jealous of your time in England! 🙂

  8. Elizabeth Elliott says:

    As an MK in Guatemala, then a missionary with my little family for a time in Peru, and now in US, I can completely relate to all this! I even learned to make tameles so that I wouldn’t be so sad about missing home.

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