Hey team, as we’re now a week into new year- which means a week since I Latvia and three days back into my Paris routine, I thought I’d share some reflections on what Christmas was like for me. Featuring some beautiful pictures we got in the snow- which was by far the highlight of my Latvian trip! So I’ll share the amazing snow day pics we got which make me smile so much ft the most beautiful snowman, ever.
This Christmas was spent in Latvia, with my partner and their family, which culminated in this collection of things to feel strange about
1) New job, who dis
2) Being away from home
2) Being in Latvia
3) Big relationship milestones
4) The future
Feel free to scroll to whichever one you care about!
New job, who dis?
This one is pretty clear- after 5 years of working in churches, Christmas didn’t feel Christmassy at all to me. I had no sessions of corny Christmas games with teenagers, no carol services to endure, no crafts to design and no pressure to welcome people who only come to church on Christmas. Which in some ways was nice- I didn’t work December 24th! But in another way was so unfamiliar to me- as was the rest of the trip that it felt a bit lonely to be so outside of my normal reigns and routine.
Being away from home
This is not the first Christmas I’ve spent away from home- I spent a fab Christmas with my friend Lucy’s family two years prior and since I’ve been eighteen I’ve only managed to visit my dads for a few days over Christmas. As we’ve become adults with partners, we’re on an alternating Christmas routine- one year all together, one year apart, so it’s not like my dad was waiting with a full roast for me either.
So why was this so bloody hard?
In actuality I don’t actually see my family that much- less than a handful of times a year for the most case- one of my sisters I think I only managed to see 3 times in the last year. But we talk most days which has meant I don’t often miss them- thank you technology!
I think this was hard because I’m so far away. It’s a whole different mentality when you know you can hop on a quick cheap train to see someone vs not having that option. I was so far away that everything was different- nothing on the table I’d normally eat on Christmas dinner- Christmas dinner on Christmas eve etc. Maybe I just missed my dads cooking. But I was a bit more subdued than usual- normally things not being familiar is exciting, but my family have few traditions and a proper Christmas dinner is one of them!
Being in Latvia
Okay I’ll be honest- Latvia has never been on my (extensive) travel list. When I mentioned going to Latvia the top two follow up questions I received were…. ‘why?’ and ‘where is it?’ A lot of Eastern Europe has been hyped up as hidden travel gems- and affordable travel too. But ex-soviet countries have yet to catch up to their more cosmopolitan counterparts.
So I immediately took to looking up best things to do in Latvia… and didn’t find much that excited me. Oh well. We were renting a car so I thought instead of bundles to do in Latvia we could drive to Estonia and Lithuania.
Driving between the countries is absolutely doable- but I have a decent amount of anxiety around cars and the roads were icy. We had a lodge airbnb in the countryside in the region my partner is from- which was an excellent decision on the whole as it felt secluded and we were alone until the 29th when a family checked in- complete with a completely wrecked car bonnet from crashing on an icy road. My worst fear. A few of the nights we spent in Riga- it was a 3 hour drive from Riga to Latgale but mostly we were in a lodge by ourselves. A wonderful relazing respite for a bit- but I’m a restless person who has spent her entire adult life in busy cities! I don’t even go on countryside holidays. A bit of me is full of regret for not ‘making the most’ of being on the continent with a car- but it was pretty cold and miserable and for me it’s a case of better safe than sorry. A summer trip across the three countries is an option though!
Honestly I did not LOVE Latvia. I loved the snow and I DID absolutely love their supermarkets- the bakery sections were amazing and I got so many pastries/breads for snacks and meals- including just eating a warm garlic bread in the car. Yum. There’s plenty I didn’t see or do but it all felt like a watered down, grey version of some other cities I’d visited. My bad attitude and anxiety definitely didn’t help. I really wanted to love it- and it’s been yonks since I’ve been on a trip longer than an extended weekend- 10 days in Germany or Italy and I’d have been over the moon. But it was cold and grey and we only saw blue sky two days. The snow made it beautiful- especially as there were so many Christmas trees- and the snow was my absolute highlight of the trip. We had a really fun few days doing every snow day trope we could think of. But I won’t lie and say I’m desperate for the next Christmas there.
Maybe I’ll like it better in the summer?
It was also strange hearing my partner speak Latvian so much- other than a few phrases or a couple of conversations I’ve never really heard them do it. My partner speaks 5 languages- two of them being Latvian variations, but they’re so bloody good at English it’s not often I step back and think how it’s their 5th language. That I’m playing words with friends with someone using their 5th language is not even something I can conceptualise.
It was also a little lonely. Being sat at Christmas dinner not understanding 90% of what was going on. Having awkward conversations about ‘why am I not learning Latvian’ particularly when a family member said that my partner should be able to speak their first language with their girlfriend. That’s sort of a mutually exclusive thing that means one of us would always be speaking in a language other than our mother tongue.
My partner, however, did their absolute best to translate consistently for me, to make the point that if they don’t care about not speaking their mother tongue with me- maybe everyone else should get over it too. But it’s not ever going to be fun to have strangers you want/need to like you, obviously discussing you and speaking in a language you don’t understand!
It’s definitely hard to set comfortable boundaries when you can’t speak for yourself.
On our departure my partners family did ask if they’d see me in the summer to celebrate solstice- which is probably a good sign although I’ll most likely be working, and have a few other travel priorities a bit higher. That seems mean or rude to confess but it’s just honesty- plus I think my family are due a visit first.
Big relationship milestones
This was the source of a lot of nerves for me- not only am I my partners first significant, and longest lasting relationship, but flying me to meet their parents is unmistakably A Big Deal. Additional pressure due to the fact I can’t actually talk to their parents. Plus: anticipated guilt from family members- ‘why did you move away from your partner’ yadda yadda yadda. So all I could do was smile at my partners parents and hope they don’t resent me as a representation of the increasing likelihood that after a decade of being away- my partner is not moving back to Latvia. I say that without judgement. Most parents want the best for their children, but they also want their children to be in their lives. They can’t come and visit us so a serious relationship represents the time they’ll see their eldest reduced even more as we split Christmases etc. Obviously I have no idea if they were thinking any of these things at all! But it felt like a lot of pressure and these were the thoughts swimming around my head.
I was told it went well. I have no way to verify this. It’s in one way a hurdle we’ve jumped over- and in other ways, a situation I’d not quite realised the gravity of until I was sat listening to endless Latvian I couldn’t understand- I’ve never dated someone whose family can’t speak English- extended family sure, or as second language- but I’ve never not been able to connect with my partners parents. I’ve had some really close relationships with the mums of my exes so this really does feel like a loss. There’s no one to blame here I just wanted to highlight the mixed emotions around this.
Leading on from this there’s an obvious look to the future- managing with potential in-laws I can’t speak to, splitting family time when both of our families are abroad- especially as I have a niece coming this year. A friend of mine and their partner have been together for a decade and never done Christmas together- there’s all kind of ways to be in a relationship and very few are ‘wrong’ (subjective, init).
I feel comforted by how supportive my partner was even though it wasn’t easy for me- they never left my side and always interpreted without me asking, they balanced my ‘I want to see everything’ vs ‘I’m scared to get in a car on an icy road’. We’ll see what the next year holds and whilst this throws up all kinds of questions about our families, and a sense of guilt- it didn’t make me question the person I love.
One thing I know for sure- is that next year it’s my turn to pick the Christmas destination- and we’ll be spending it with my family- hopefully my grandparents- in sunny Spain!
Hopefully I’ll learn to love Latvia too.
This turned into way longer than expected- but it was pretty cathartic writing it all out and I processed a lot on the way- this festive season has been so busy and I can’t believe we’re into a new year already. Gonna write up my resolutions in a mo and I’m sure I’m way past the cut off point of people caring- I can’t wait for Sunday when I’m just going to sleep!
Have you ever had trouble bonding with a partners family? how did you cope?