Tess' first book “Leap: Leaving A Job With No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want” was published in August 2015 by Random House Harmony. For more information on the book, go here.

Tess Untethered | Holidays Abroad: Time Gone Missing
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Holidays Abroad: Time Gone Missing

Nov 22 2017

Holidays Abroad: Time Gone Missing

Before I moved overseas, I never really thought about how holidays serve as significant markers in the passage of time.
But up until a couple of days ago, I basically forgot that this week was Thanksgiving.

How do you forget Thanksgiving?! Well, you live in Thailand. Or anywhere else outside of the United States. The same thing happened, for me, with Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day over the last two years. They went by without notice. And that feels… weird.

One of the first things I used to do at the start of the year was mark off holidays in Google calendar. Even the minor ones like President’s Day. And it wasn’t just because a holiday meant a day (or more) off from work — in fact, more often than not, I had to work on holidays (the news does not stop just because everyone in America is eating turkey). It was also because those events were touchstones of a passing year. When Independence Day rolls around, you know you’re about halfway through. By Veteran’s Day, it’s almost time for a new calendar.

Sometimes America seems like it’s in permanent holiday mode… special car sales for President’s Day start in late January, Easter eggs come out in early March even if it’s not until April, school supply stories start hitting the media weeks (if not a couple of months) before Labor Day. All in the service of selling you stuff, of course.

But none of those markers happen when you’re abroad. I mean, they happen in a local way — Thailand certainly has holidays (lots of them, actually) — but there are none of the traditional benchmarks I’ve lived with my whole life. And when I realize, belatedly, that it’s almost Memorial Day back home, or Thanksgiving, it makes me feel like my life’s timeline is somehow off. It’s warped. There’s no buildup, no anticipation, for the traditions and rituals and habits surrounding those events. I don’t exactly miss it, but I do feel a wistfulness for it. Sometimes.


Today is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and if I were back home, I’d either be prepping the feast myself, or, more likely, making a couple of dishes to take to my brother’s house in Long Beach, California. If it was my old life in the newsroom, I’d probably be working on Thanksgiving itself (and Friday as well), but after doing the show at 2 p.m., I’d drive down and spend the late afternoon with his family and my parents. And I’d be taking part in all those conversations everyone is having today about who they are and are not looking forward to seeing, and how the parking lot at Costco was the 7th circle of hell last weekend.

I do miss that. I miss that yardstick in the passage of time. It’s strange to be living without it.

Christmas display mid-November at a mall in Bangkok

I won’t be home for Christmas, either, this year, and that will be odd, too. But Thailand — while 94% Buddhist — is not immune from the commercial Christmas virus that seems to be one of America’s prime exports. Decorations were up, sale signs hung, and treacly holiday songs filled the malls by the time I returned from a trip on November 10. (And nobody was hollering about “Hey can’t you at least wait until after Thanksgiving?!” because… right, there’s no Thanksgiving.) But Christmas in Bangkok will be a little like the ones Bing Crosby croons about in Hawaii — a bright Christmas day, in a land where palm trees sway.


And so the time will pass. Maybe not like it does when I’m home. But there are other markers in my life now. And tomorrow I will, indeed, have a Thanksgiving dinner around 7 p.m. Bangkok time, when everyone back home is still sleeping, courtesy of good friends who even spring for Doritos as appetizers before a traditional feast. No one around me the rest of the day will know it’s a special day — but I will. And I’ll give thanks for the home country that helped make this life I’m living, possible.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What I miss about Thanksgiving in the U.S.:
*the smell of my brother’s bacon-wrapped turkey
*watching my mom make pies (I don’t eat them — don’t like cakes or pies — but there’s something about watching her make them that stirs my soul) (that’s her handiwork in the main photo above, Thanksgiving 2014)
*getting the latest music playlist recommendations from my teenaged nieces and nephews
*hot cider
*green bean casserole (I’ve never been able to find French’s fried onions here, and without those, there is no green bean casserole) (and please don’t suggest I make my own fried onions because as any true American knows it is not the same thing)
*the drive from Pasadena to Long Beach with spookily empty freeways
*cool(er) weather

What I don’t miss about Thanksgiving in the U.S.:

*the atrocious hype around Black Friday (though it does show up in Bangkok as well)
*pre-holiday traffic and sky-high airfares
*sweet potatoes
*clogged grocery aisles
*entire media columns dedicated to “surviving” Thanksgiving — first world problems, much?

Seen in a Bangkok mall. Is there nowhere to escape this? Not even a 94% Buddhist country??

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  • Mom

    Wish you were going to be with us tomorrow!!! Say “hi” to and enjoy dinner with Sally and David!

    November 22, 2017 at 10:32 pm

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