Yup, I’m writing this post as many people are gearing up for the 2016 holiday season. I never got around to writing this post last year and looking back at the old photos, it made me sad!
Considering I get a fair amount of flack about how behind I am in blogging these days I decided to just backdate the post and sneak it in there super sly. After all, this blog is in so many ways my diary… and when I look back in a few decades I don’t want to missed an entry, no matter how long it takes me to post it!
For years, I fought to spend the holidays at home. It made little sense to do so. I hate winters and otherwise spend them abroad, but for years clung to the idea that the only way I could be happy on December 25th — and all the other important dates around it — was to wake up in my childhood home.
My first two holiday seasons overseas were a bit rough. My first winter in Thailand I never felt that ethereal “Christmas spirit,” despite the fact that my family had come to visit, and when I found myself in Ecuador two years later, I felt even more adrift, despite the beautiful setting. This past year, however, was different. For the first time, Christmas felt like Christmas, even across the planet from the stocking with my name on it.
In my always-scheming, perpetually-festive mind, the holiday season is an extended one that kicks of with Halloween, carries on a week later with my birthday, rolls into Thanksgiving and then rages on until Christmas and finally that last hurrah that is New Year’s Eve.
In 2015 I celebrated each and every one of them on Koh Tao, an island that loves to party. Granted, I kinda phoned in Halloween (I recycled a costume from Burning Man and didn’t bake a single thing), my birthday got totally rained out (but look at the adorable cake Ian had made for me), and Thanksgiving was a low-key affair at Banyan (though surrounded by friends and plenty of blessings to be thankful for.) But consistency was key and it felt amazing to just be in one place and enjoying these fun and special days with close friends instead of strangers — or you know, friends you haven’t met yet according to motivational posters!
Christmas, by comparison, I wanted to go big. Ian and I arrived back from our pre-holiday vacation on December 23rd, and I dedicated the entire day to shopping for wrapping and baking supplies. In a land without Target, errands like these take hours! That night, my partner-in-crime Janine came over and we drank wine, cranked the Christmas tunes and reminisced over old memories.
On Christmas Eve I burst out of bed filled with cheer. I Skyped my family before heading down to Ocean Sound Yoga for a Christmas-music themed class. I rocked in there in my star leggings and antlers on and laughed my way through the class before crying a little at the Silent Night cover that played during savasana. Good crying — I left on a holiday high! I arrived home to find a little elf — a little elf named Ian — had left a tiny Christmas tree at my front door.
Thrilled with my new decoration, I spent the rest of the day listening to Destiny’s Child Christmas (don’t judge), baking peppermint cookies and wrapping the gifts I’d gathered for friends in Bangkok and Siem Reap.
That night I headed to my friend Gemma’s for a low key Christmas Eve potluck — I brought the cookies and the red and green jello shots, obviously. With a fireplace DVD crackling on the TV and more Christmas tunes in the air, it was the perfect way to kick off the evening.
After dinner we headed out to — where else? — Banyan. We’d planned a big night down on the beach but a torrential downpour quickly changed those plans. By the time everyone drove home a few hours later, the streets were rivers and I worried about flooding the engine on my bike. In spite of the excitement, I somehow managed to drift to sleep, hoping that Santa would know where to find me…
On Christmas morning I woke up to what I assumed was rain — after all, it had been pouring all week. Upon further investigation I realized the sound I heard was the small stream next to my house, which had been transformed into a rushing waterfall by the previous night’s storm! Yet looking up, I saw nothing but sun and blue skies. Santa had indeed found Koh Tao.
After another round of Skyping with both my family and friends back home, I grabbed a bikini and a red hat and headed for the beach.
Sairee Beach felt festive and fun as expats, locals and vacationers alike enjoyed the break in the week’s relentless rain. Our friends who own a beach bar had officially closed up shop. Unofficially, we toasted to the day with free drinks and laughing gas distributed in red and green balloons.
I never thought I’d be one of those people (AKA holiday haters), but I admit it: Janine and I spent quite some time gossiping and giggling in the sand, and a major point of conversation was all the drama and headaches we were skipping back home.
As sunset neared, Janine and I grabbed takeaway mojitos and snuck off for foot massages — it wouldn’t have been Christmas without one.
(Side note: I know these photos aren’t up to my usual standards, but I was mostly snapping with my iPhone for the purpose of sending to my family rather than for blogging. Consider this a behind-the-scenes unpolished look!)
Finally, just as the sky gifted us with the most beautiful sunset, we made our way up the hill to our friends Chris and Päivi’s for a beautiful Scandinavian Christmas dinner. Päivi had made a special shopping trip to Koh Samui and spent days in the kitchen preparing this special meal for us, and it showed.
It was a beautiful dinner to cap off two perfect days.
Once we’d stuffed ourselves silly, we made our way back down the hill to continue the debauchery at Banyan Bar, where I festively ordered the only drink on the menu with nutmeg in it. Finally, we continued on to the beach crawl we’d missed out on the night before. When we finally called it a night at our favorite after-hours Thai bar in Mae Haad, it was after 4am. A holiday rager? It was a first for me!
Thankfully, I had a few days to recover before New Year’s Eve. With several of our main crew out of town visiting friends elsewhere in Thailand or back in their home countries, we were a slightly smaller group than usual. Ian and I skipped doing a fancy dinner in favor of Thai takeaway while I put on a little black dress for the first time in months.
The night was nothing out of the ordinary — but that’s what I love about New Year’s on Koh Tao. Little drama, lots of laughs and smiles and shaking our heads at the inability of anyone to execute a proper countdown. While I wouldn’t mind trying a big city New Year’s in Bangkok someday, this was the perfect way to ring in my self-proclaimed Year of Chill.
So there you have it. A holiday season in the sand. I’m not sure what made it so good. The fact that the previous year’s Christmas at home had been fairly gloomy didn’t hurt — the memories certainly kept homesickness at bay — though I think it came down to my tight knit community of friends and the fact that Koh Tao feels more like home than almost anywhere on earth.
It was so good that I’m going to do it all over again next year. Janine and I made a pact that day in the sand. In 365 days, we’ll be there again. With sleigh bells on.