Christmas in Kabul

Posted by Michael Williams
December 14, 2007
Christmas Tree in Kabul

Michael Williams is a Presidential Management Fellow on rotation from the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement to U.S. Embassy Kabul’s Political-Military section.

My twelve inch plastic Christmas tree sits prominently on the nightstand in my hooch, the containerized living space I fondly call home here at Embassy Kabul. Carefully wrapped presents sent APO by my family in New York overshadow the pinecone ornaments and miniature lights decorating the tree. Scanning the rest of the bright white plastic walls and furniture making my little container, other mementos of the holiday season catch the eye: red and green miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups, a large but empty stocking hanging from the window frame and a new sweater strewn over my chair – a prematurely opened present. Here will be the setting for my Christmas this year.

At an Embassy like Kabul, the people you see everyday are not simply office colleagues, but your surrogate family for the duration. Life’s normal interactions are restricted by security walls, limited travel in armored vehicles to sit behind more security walls and a vague perception of the dangers waiting outside. Christmas becomes a time to strengthen ties with the Embassy family, whether they celebrate Christmas or not. The feelings of family and sharing are brought out by a confluence of changes in the compound environment. Decorations appear in the cafeteria, idle talk turns to expressions of packages expected and received and little get-togethers with specially prepared foods and spirits fill the little apartments.

As is the case every year around this time, I look forward to the winter holiday season. I indulge in the smiles, the food and the anticipation of something just over the horizon. The presents too, are certainly welcome. This will be my first Christmas away from my family in New York, something that I was not looking forward to when I volunteered to work at the Embassy. Amazingly though, not only am I finding that I’m not as disconnected from my family back home as I expected, but I’ve been welcomed into a second family. APO presents have made there way to me in this now snowy and gray part of Afghanistan, whereas I’ve been able to share presents with my loved ones through the magic of Internet product purchase (something I admit to doing long before it became a necessity). To add to this, the great advent of webcams and video conferencing will allow me to see the smiles of my family when we open each others gifts, albeit thousands of miles apart.

The holiday sharing with my new Kabul family will span the twelve days of Christmas and bring me to the final present-opening scene. Intimate and not so intimate gatherings complete with holiday music, mulled wine and Santa hats have begun and will continue to fill the Embassy staff’s calendar. Everyone walks a little lighter and grins a little more, building on the aura of the season surrounding them. The serious work continues at its frantic and difficult pace, but the promise of a sociable evening with family makes everyone beam in the face of it all.



District Of Columbia, USA
December 20, 2007

Noah in Washington writes:


Thanks for helping those of us back home understand what it's like out there. Keep up the good work, and don't open too many more presents before the 25th!

District Of Columbia, USA
December 20, 2007

Dan in Washington, DC writes:

Michael: Thanks for your inspiring message and for your service to the U.S. and for peace and prosperity in Afghanistan.

Your story, and the importance of recognizing the sacrifice and sharing the holidays with loved ones away from home in service of our nation and the cause of liberty, reminds me of a story my father used to tell about returning home after WWII.

My dad had been away from home for the holidays three years during the war, as he was first stationed in North Africa, then in Italy, and finally in Germany following the end of WWII. He came home for good in November after the war ended, and he got a job with the U.S. Government. However, given that he was the newest member on the staff, he was told that he would have to work over Christmas week. He protested that he'd been overseas the last three years fighting WWII and that he wanted to be home for Christmas, but to no avail. Well, he quit that job on the spot and was indeed home for the holidays!

I for one will be thinking of you, and thanking you and all the others serving our nation during the holidays. And when you return, I trust and hope that everyone will do what they can to make sure you enjoy future holidays at home with your family!

And as that classic, popular song puts it, "...I'll be home for Christmas, you can plan on me ...if only in my dreams."

All the best!

New York, USA
December 24, 2007

Doug in New York writes:

Thank you so much. We hope you can come home soon. We'll do our best to elect Obama, which should help us get out of this mess over there. In the meantime, hang in there.

New York, USA
February 8, 2008

Mary in New York writes:

Hi Michael... Your Mom shared your site with me. Good to know that you're managing to bear the distance with a smile during the holidays. Wish you a safe, peaceful New Year and a speedy return home.


gail h.
New York, USA
December 30, 2007

Gail in New York writes:

We met many times and you even came to my house one Christmas Eve -- a long time ago. While fascinated with our U.S. Afghan policy, I remain concerned and proud all Americans who serve our cause.

In closing, we are with you in spirit, and wish you a happy and safe New Year.

Gail (Mom's good friend)

New York, USA
February 8, 2008

Patricia in New York writes:

Hi Michael: I work at NYHQ with your Mom and I know how very proud of you she is and we all are for that matter.

I hope that the New Year will bring you good health and happiness. Please be assured that you are in my prayers, God bless you. Warmly, Patricia.

December 28, 2007

Emule in Brazil writes:

Peace and prosperity from Brazil.


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