Have the Holiday Blues? – 10 Ways to Enjoy Christmas Abroad

Christmas Santas
Christmas Santas
Christmas Display in Taichung
Christmas Display in Taichung

survival guide

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!



Stars and a bear
Stars and a bear
Christmas Yellow Duck - Remember the Duck Craze in Taiwan last year!
Christmas Yellow Duck – Remember the Duck Craze in Taiwan last year!

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?

Merry Christmas Bear
Merry Christmas Bear
Christmas @ Sogo
Christmas @ Sogo
Christmas Harrods
Christmas Harrods
Christmas Sogo 5
Christmas Sogo 5
Another Christmas Display
Another Christmas Display
Tree at night
Tree at night

Linking up with A Southern Gypsy for #WeekendWanderlust


56 thoughts on “Have the Holiday Blues? – 10 Ways to Enjoy Christmas Abroad

  1. I spent many Christmases alone when I was a teenager, and it wasn’t bad. But if you are in other country it’s no fun. When we lived in Spain, we ended up inviting all kinds of people from other countries to spend Christmas with us so they didn’t have to spend Christmas alone. We always had a great time.

    1. Thanks for dropping by and sharing your experience of spending the holidays abroad, Tim!!

      Yes, I think it is never a good idea to spend the holidays alone if there is another option. I have spent many holidays in Taiwan now and the huge Christmas feast at our house has become a tradition with lots of happiness, joy, and laughter!

  2. Now as I live again in my home country I leave all decorating work my parents…just kidding but this years only my parents will decorate their apartment as we still have a lot to do in our before we can start thinking to get some Christmassy atmosphere here.
    My biggest problem is each year to come up with presents and now I am struggling to find some good ones again 😦

  3. Those decorations around town are so cute! Plenty of great adviceーnot everyone can travel “home” for the holidays so it’s great to have a community and traditions in your adopted home too. ^^ (Says the person who is chickening out this year again and heading back to her parents’ house, hehe. In my defense, YJ will be working, as will most of my other friends.)

    Secret Santa is the best! I joined in one last year for a kimono group I joined, and it was lots of fun! It was easy too, since there was one interest that brought us together and people generally bought cute little accessories that maybe one normally wouldn’t splurge on (I say splurge, we had a limit of 1,000 yen, about $10USD) oneself. ^^ It was nice!

    1. I really like Secret Santa, too!! And I really like the fact that there is usually a specific dollar amount given as it eases the process of how much to spend and the mental game of is it too little or too much.

      Hope your week is off to a great start (as I am sure it is as your studying is finished and you are off to have some fun)!!

  4. I don’t really have a good track record of celebrating Christmas as it is not really part of my culture. To me, Christmas is wonderful because it is another holiday LOL!
    But I do get homesick on some of the Chinese related festivals when I don’t get to go home to my parents and siblings. It’s strange because I yearn for home, but every time I go home, I can’t stay for more than a few days before going stir crazy. Home is still home, but in some ways, it doesn’t feel like home anymore. Does this sound nuts?

    1. Cl, I completely understand what you mean and it doesn’t sound nuts. I think we all change and adjust to living our own way. (If that makes sense!!)

      And I know what you mean about Christmas as it is/was exactly the way I feel about many Taiwanese holidays. Before they were just days that I got off of work. However, the more Chinese New Years I celebrate with my husband’s family, the more it is becoming a tradition.

  5. I was entertaining myself trying to catch the snowflakes while reading…bad idea…haha..I don’t celebrate Christmas but I love the spirit of Christmas…and the christmas songs! 🙂

    1. Yes, Christmas songs are so uplifting!! And that is the only snowfall I have been able to experience in all long time – and the best thing about it is I don’t need to shovel the stuff falling on my blog! 🙂

      Happy Monday! Hope your week is off to a great start!

  6. I have spent many Christmas in China! And Dec 25th is a working day here, so it doesn’t feel like Christmas at all. It bothered me at first but not anymore, I got used to it.
    As in Taiwan, Christmas was hardly celebrated in China a few years ago but this is changing, specially in big cities like Shanghai. The malls are all decorated by now, there are several Christmas markets around town, etc.
    I just started a new job and yesterday they told me they will be having a Christmas dinner for all the people in the office, of course I will join 🙂

    1. I usually take Christmas Day off of work. There were one or two that I actually worked on, but I just played Christmas games with the kids and they had a gift exchanged.

      It is awesome that your company is having a Christmas dinner – that will definitely get you into the festive swing of things. And I bet there are some awesome Christmas displays to enjoy in Shanghai.

  7. BTW I remember the duck craze in Taiwan!!! I was there in December last year and one night I was watching tv in the hotel and there were news about the duck in every single channel!!!

  8. This is terrific advice Constance, especially the last part about not spending the holidays alone! I remember there was one year I was almost in danger of being alone for Christmas in China and then I ended up making my way to visit friends in Zhengzhou, which turned out to be a much more delightful way to spend the holiday — more than I expected!

  9. Great tips! I think the holidays can be what you make of them, and you should make the best of it and make new traditions if you can! I think the most important thing is to spend time with people, whether they are family or friends that you meet along the way! Thanks for linking up with Weekend Wanderlust 🙂

  10. Attending Christmas Mass and sharing a meal with the locals are two of my favorite things to do when I’m abroad during the holidays. It’s lovely to get invited to someone else’s home and share memories with them. It will be a great story to tell later and maybe even a new tradition!

  11. my family and friends are scattered all around the world (majority in Taiwan!) so it feels like every christmas I spend is abroad, somehow. I love the idea of creating your own tradition! I celebrate 3x different gift exchanges with different groups of friends just because we’re all around the world.

  12. Great tips. I always fly home for Christmas as it is a two hours flight but for me the leading up to Christmas is what I find hard…getting into the mood is difficult so this year I have gone out and purchased Christmas DIY decorations and set myself projects to keep me busy and even attended local craft days…it helps a bit and makes me feel more at home when I would normally be doing these things with my family…

  13. I do wonder about this when we are in new Zealand next Christmas and more so when we are in Bangladesh year after where people don’t celebrate Christmas how we do it here in England. I worry more that the kids will miss Christmas too much as they do so much at school and with their famity here..I will be sure to read up on this again next year early december! Some great useful things we can do to keep it memorable and meaningful 🙂

  14. Hey! I spent four Christmases in a row away… two in Thailand and two in Japan. The first three were no big deal, but the last was awful! I worked and was away from my hunny. 😦 As for what we did, present exchanges and spending time with friends made for a fun time.

    1. I think my first one in Taiwan didn’t begin too well but it ended up being an absolute blast – I had so much fun at a big expat gathering. I really think the holidays are what you make them and the fun for me begins this weekend! What are you plans for the holidays?

      1. We’ll be heading to my parents’ home for a few days. A relative gave me a great book from the 80s about creating family Christmas traditions. I’d love to read it with Hitoshi and create plans for next year to try with our baby-chan. It’s fun to combine and create and come up with something special. Every since being away for Christmas for the first time 10 years ago, I lost a bit of the spirit and it would be nice to rekindle that.

  15. Spending my first Christmas abroad this year. Some of my family are coming over but I will miss some of the traditions from my home country. Great post!

  16. Love all the pictures! We spent Christmas in Canada last year and did actually follow many of your tips above which made it a much more enjoyable experience! But – there is something about celebrating with family so this year we are travelling home for Christmas:) Where are you celebrating?
    Happy holidays!

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