The holidays are always a rough time to be living abroad. We think of the annual customs and family traditions associated with the holidays. We miss our friends and love ones. And more often than not, homesickness creeps in and we begin questioning our decision to live far away. Sometimes the ‘living abroad awesomeness bubble’ breaks and we yearn for everything familiar and common that is occurring this time of the year in our native country.
But if you can over the fact of not being home for the holidays, living abroad presents the opportunity of creating your very own set of new customs, festive memories, and yearly traditions. Here are 10 ways you can do to make the holidays abroad more manageable and bearable during the holidays:
Annual Christmas Gathering & Christmas Dinner: Remember that there are others in the same boat as you, so why not organize a Christmas gathering at your place, at a friend’s, or at a restaurant. (A lot of Western restaurants serve turkey dinner during Christmas in Taiwan, so check it out!) My husband and I host an annual Christmas dinner. Although I am responsible for the cooking, everyone usually helps in the preparation. Personally, there is something about preparing Christmas dinner with others that conjures up holiday memories of my sister and I helping my mom prepare the Christmas feast when I was younger. Also, it is just good to be surrounded by friends during the holidays – they are like your family away from home.
Attending Christmas Eve Mass: You can get in touch with the true meaning of Christmas and gather with people who share the same values and belief system as you do. Attending Christmas mass has been a family tradition for a long as I can remember. There is something about the Christmas hymns that is so pure and uplifting. (Although I try to steer away from talking about religion (and politics) on my blog, I thought I would include this one.)
Decorating & Decking the Halls: There is nothing more holly and jolly than decorating. It is sure bet to get you into the Christmas spirit and holiday ‘swing of things’. Decorating the tree and lighting it at night will for sure remind you that Christmas is just around the corner and will remind you that all is not lost just because you currently live in a foreign country. Share the festive joy of decorating with others who may be feeling a little lonely as well.
I know several people who refuse to invest in decorations for the holidays because they think it is a waste of money but if it can brighten up the occasion and make the holidays all the more enjoyable, they why not? It is that one time that it is OK to splurge a little! And if you are worried about what to do when them when you leave, just pass them on. I ‘inherited’ some of my decorations from an American friend who moved back to the States so there is no need to worry about what to do with them when the time comes to move on.
Enjoying Christmas Displays around Town: When I first arrived in Taiwan, the Christmas scene here was very limited to non-existent. But that has all changed in recent years. City Governments are now getting in on the action and creating huge displays for Christmas and department stores are getting into the swing of things as well. They are quite unique and beautiful and it will get you feeling all Christmasy while doing some present shopping without contending with the crowds (see, there is a silver lining to living abroad during the holidays!!) Be sure to check them all out and you will be feeling holly and jolly in no time!
Connecting with Love Ones: In the modern world of technology, there is no need to feel disconnected from love ones during the holidays. Spend Christmas together virtually. I always join my family in traditions like present opening via Skype. It shrinks the amount of miles between us and makes the holidays all the more easier. So if you are living abroad this year, allow technology to be friend and bring you closer to love ones on the other side of the globe. It will make the holidays more enjoyable for them too because they will feel the connection to you too.
Use Snail Mail to Your Advantage: Send presents representing your adopted country to your family and friends. From personal experience, my presents with a ‘Taiwan vibe’ were great received and appreciated as they are usually unique, one-of-a-kind items. Plus, my Christmas cards with misspelled words and strange English greetings make for great conversations with visitors during the holidays. I have sent Christmas with ‘Wish you a silly Christmas’ and ‘Marry Christmas’ which made everyone smile. Word of advice though! If you plan to do this, allow ample time for delivery as the mail is usually very busy and thus, slower during this time of year.
Create your own ‘Christmas Abroad Traditions’: Why not take advantage of the fact that you are living abroad and incorporate it into your own unique holiday traditions. For example, every year I create an ornament with special meaning or significance and place it on the tree. I still have the ornament with ‘My 1st Christmas in Taiwan’ hand-written on it. It is good to recall the what has happened throughout the years and it adds a personal touch to your tree to your tree as well.
Sharing Your Traditions with Locals: Taiwanese (as I am sure it is with any country) are always curious about the traditions and customs of other cultures so why not share your holiday traditions with the locals. I always invite my Taiwanese friends to my home during the holidays. They are very intrigued about everything and why not give them some insight into your culture. I find that many of my friends have also invited me to their family during special occasions in Taiwan. I consider it a win-win situation.
I have invited several groups of friends in the past and organized a gift exchange some years and a secret Santa other years. Both were a huge success and it was well received by everyone. Personally, I enjoy the Secret Santa much more as you know who will receive your present beforehand and thus, you can buy a more ‘appropriate gift.’
AND the last two are just words of advice:
DON’T, I repeat DON’T Spend the Holidays Alone: I am aware of a few situations where ex-pats missed their families and everything familiar so much that they refused to take partake in any festive activities. Don’t do this! The only person you are hurting is yourself and your family back home (if they are aware of your case of the holiday blues’)!!
Realize that it is not the End of the World: I realize that being away from home during the holidays can be tough but make the most out of it. It is up to you to have an aura of Christmas cheer or be a Grinch. So remember to enjoy it to the fullest so you can look back without regrets.
Have you ever spent a Christmas abroad? If so, what did you do to celebrate the holidays?