“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
-- Dr. Seuss

On Christmas Eve, the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour Team had just wrapped up the final activation in Calcutta, India. The team was notably tired and slightly down, knowing that this Christmas was going to be very different from most.

We were far away from our families and friends. Far away from the comfort of home and the traditions around Christmas that we have all come to know and love. Far away from the togetherness and celebration that makes Christmas so special.

The whole group celebrating Christmas together.

Our core team, the flight crew, our media friends from Brazil and even a former FIFA World Cup winner all joined together on Christmas Eve.

After four months on the road, our team has truly become a modern family in every sense of the word. This journey is long and takes its personal toll on each and every member, but what keeps us together in pursuit of that overall objective is the camaraderie and family-like unit we have built to enable this tour to happen.

If I had any doubts about that, it was most definitely erased this Christmas eve, when in spite of the circumstances of being away from our families, we came together and celebrated as one. Together with our local team in India, the hotel put together a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner for the team to enjoy and celebrate the occasion. It was a spectacular dinner as everyone came together and celebrated as one big family. Our core team, the flight crew, our media friends from Brazil and even a former FIFA World Cup winner all joined together on Christmas Eve to enjoy the company of each other and to provide us each with that much needed family substitution.

Christmas tree with pictures of family and friends

The team's Christmas tree with pictures of family and friends

Following supper we all made our way to the specially set up atrium where a very special Christmas tree had been set up for us. The decorations on the tree where comprised of pictures from home, with our families and loved ones, and it was wonderful to sit together and look at all the pictures we each held near and dear to our hearts. Our very own Father Christmas then arrived to hand out the secret Santa gifts to the team.  Everyone had bought something for another person in the team, and even though the gifts may have been small, the act was immense. We all had such a great time receiving those gifts from Santa and sitting on his lap again like little kids.

Brad with Santa

Brad's picture with Santa.

The following morning was Christmas Day, and as we all made our way to Myanmar, there was a special buzz in the air. There was another present-opening occasion on board the flight where gifts and Christmas stockings were handed out, with Christmas carols playing onboard the plane’s PA system en route to our next stop. We landed in Myanmar and went straight to the venue for the day’s activities – once again, the local team was very gracious towards us and really embraced us and acknowledged that they were so appreciative of us being there on Christmas with them. We received the following message from one of the local team members in Myanmar:

Christmas present exchange on the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour plane

Christmas present exchange on the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour plane

“Thank you for bringing the FIFA World Cup Trophy to us in Myanmar. Christmas Day is your special day as it is ours. We are grateful that you landed with us on your special day. To welcome your team and the FIFA World Cup is the most honorable Christmas present we can ever wish for. We are so happy can cannot thank you enough”

Just when you can’t think it can get any better, it does. Later that evening, when we arrived in our rooms, we had a special envelope on our desks. Inside, was a letter and pictures from our families, partners, significant others and all those we hold near to our hearts. It was a wonderful way to end Christmas Day by having those personal messages already in our rooms from our families.

Family is sacred, and can never be replaced, but if there was ever another time I have to spend away from home for Christmas, I hope it can be with this amazing group of people, of friends we have come to cherish over the journey we have been on, and people we regard as close as family now.

Christmas is a time for celebration, for coming together and for enjoying each other’s company. Dr. Seuss was onto something as he tried to describe Christmas in words – it means so much more than gifts or anything of the sort. It’s about celebration, reflection, companionship and family, and I think that even though we didn’t have our family with us, we truly celebrated all the tenants together as one modern family.

Brad Ross is global football manager and FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour project lead for The Coca-Cola Company.