This is my first Christmas back in the US since my Peace Corps service. In Togo I attended Christmas parties with other volunteers but our recreations of an American Christmas were always lackluster. Sure, we would play Christmas songs, get ingredients for the classic meals shipped from home, and capitalize on the opportunity to speak lots of English with each other; but it was never quite the same.

We could pretend to have a traditional Christmas party together but a slight glance out the window or one step out the door brought us back to our reality. Our streets were not snow covered. Nor were any Christmas trees in sight. 

Out the windows we could see our streets were not even paved—just the dusty red clay of Africa. We would have to settle for palm trees instead of pines.

Taking a step out the door brought the vision to the rest of our senses. It was hot—not just in the 70’s or 80’s but more like the 100’s at mid-day in December. The sun was so bright I could feel it penetrating my skin.

Outside our lovely Christmas songs played no more. If by chance any music could be heard, it would be in a local language or maybe French. However, it was more likely that the sounds we heard were claps and stomps of kids playing games.

Now, I find myself celebrating Christmas in the US. Here I can glance out the window and spot decorated Christmas trees scattered among the Florida palms. Christmas music plays in English and delicious food is served at every meal.

This time most of the Christmas elements are in place. Granted, Florida is not the traditional Christmas climate, but I’ll take 75 over 100˚.

Yet, something still feels missing. It is not the snowy weather this time either. It is not even the lack of company—I am at a resort with more than 1,000 people from all over the world. Nor are they unhappy. Most of them are quite pleasant and might possibly be having the happiest times of their life here.

But happiness means different things to different people. It can even mean different things to the same person at different points in their life. For me, now, happiness is about being in a place I can call home. It is about feeling loved and loving others—not just eating delicious food. This is what was missing all along.

So, I will echo the Club Med slogan and ask, "what's your idea of happiness?"