After a lot of back and forth, price-checking, and flight tracking, I ultimately decided to stay in Abidjan for Christmas. Though cost was somewhat a factor (flying to the United States and back isn't cheap!), it mostly had to do with the opportunity to experience something new. I've had 21 Christmases in the United States + 1 in Canada. Why not see how Christmas is celebrated here? So, I got my Amazon orders in on-time, made sure my family would all have presents to open Christmas day, and then turned my focus on having a happy holiday abroad.
Here are some observations about my Christmas in Abidjan:
MORE CHRIST, LESS CAPITALISM
Of course, people still exchange gifts. But it's clear that this day is more about religion than festivity. The inundation of Christmas songs, decorations, movies, Santa Clauses, and reindeer ubiquitous in the United States was noticeably absent here. Some stores (predominantly stores with western products), strung lights, and Christmas Eve I saw a Santa in a sleigh, but otherwise, the capitalistic / cultural phenomenon of an American Christmas didn't translate in the Ivory Coast.
IT'S NOT NECESSARILY AN ALL-DAY FAMILY AFFAIR
We spent most of our Christmas drinking with some friends at a bar! We were surprised to find that they could spend time away from their families on Christmas (at my house that's a definite no, no), but it didn't seem to faze anyone. In fact, the night before, we had attended another party with our host brother, Ilan, and after a fair amount of drinking and dancing, he ultimately slept on our couch Christmas Eve night!
SWEAT INSTEAD OF SNOWFLAKES TAKES SOME GETTING USED TO
I think one reason I really didn't feel homesick for most of the holiday season was because it just didn't feel like the holiday season! Having hot weather all year round has really messed with my sense of time. I hadn't realized just how heavily I relied on seasons, and particularly cold weather at Christmas, to put myself in certain head spaces.
I'm really glad I experienced a Christmas abroad. I have to admit though, I'm not sure that I'll ever enjoy Christmas as much as when it's spent around a tree, with a fire crackling, frost on the window, Nate-King Cole playing on the stereo, and my family by my side.
Disclaimer: This website chronicles my time as an English Teaching Assistant in Côte d'Ivoire. It reflects my own experiences and does not represent the views or opinions of the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.