In honor of this post getting a major overhaul and revision, I thought I would post it again. I have added some new ideas, changed some of the script, and added lots of photos – plus I posted it too late last year meaning it only reached a very small audience. I think it is especially useful for expats who find themselves spending the holidays abroad and it may also be an inspiration for travelers who find themselves miles away from home during the holiday season. And in all honesty, it can also serve as a useful guide for anyone who loves Christmas and wants to enjoy it to the fullest! And as a side note, I don’t plan to re-post often and this may very well be an exception to the rule! (And to the people who messaged me on facebook and asked me how I spend my holidays, I hope this answers your question.)
Hope you all are decking the halls & getting into the Christmas spirit!
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays from Taiwan!
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 loved ones. And more often than not, homesickness creeps in and we begin questioning our decision to live far away from home in the first place. 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 get 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 make the holidays abroad much more manageable, enjoyable, and bearable:
~1~ 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 good to be surrounded by friends during the holidays – they are like your family away from home.
~2~ Attend 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 of mine for as 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.)
~3~ Decorate & Deck the Halls
There is nothing more holly and jolly than decorating. It is a sure bet to get you into the holiday ‘swing of things’. Decorating the tree and lighting it at night will remind you that Christmas is just around the corner and will also 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, then why not? It is that one time that it is OK to splurge a little! And if you are worried about what to do with 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.
~4~ Enjoy 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. The displays 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!
~5~ Connect 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. Join in on family traditions like present opening via Skype. It shrinks the amount of miles between you and your family and makes the holidays all the more easier. So if you are living abroad this year, allow technology to be your 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 with you.
~6~ 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 greatly received and appreciated as they were unique, one-of-a-kind items. Plus, my Christmas cards with misspelled words and strange English greetings made for great conversations with visitors during the holidays. I have sent Christmas cards with ‘Wish you a silly Christmas’ and ‘Marry Christmas’ which has 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 the holiday season!
~7~ 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 from my very first Christmas in Taiwan. It is good way to recall what has happened throughout the years and it adds a personal touch to your tree as well.
~8~ Share Your Traditions with the 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 home 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 enjoyed 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:
~9~ DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT, 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’)!!
~10~ 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 Christmas abroad? If so, what did you do to celebrate the holidays?
Linking up with A Southern Gypsy for #WeekendWanderlust