The world is smaller than it used to be, and often we can find ourselves far from home at Christmas time. Even if “home” now is not where we were born or where the rest of our families are, it’s still a change from what we remember. For me "home" will always be, and will also be, at my parents' house.
Christmas as a kid
I grew up somewhere warm where there were lights in palm trees. At that time Christmas meant LOTS and LOTS of delicious food...anything we really loved. Christmas Eve was all about food prepping late into the night. We all woke up early to have our favorite breakfast and do more preparations. Then family would come over and we would eat and laugh and nap until we, the kiddies, fell asleep.
A white Christmas
We moved somewhere cold with lots of snow. SNOWWWWW! I loved those slowly drifting snowflakes that sparkled like diamonds in the night. The cold taste on my tongue. I had my first expat Christmas. Everything else was the same, but now there was a different selection of food on the table. We kept some dishes but added the traditional North American fixin’s like ham, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, warm apple pie with ice cream... I could stay awake to party with the grown ups and there was always the Christmas movie pick from Blockbuster, the now defunct video rental chain.
Christmas in Europe
I left home and headed to France, then Switzerland, then the Netherlands. I’ve had a few European Christmases and they are different in every country. Sometimes I was with a host family, sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. In France they had seafood as the traditional Christmas meal. The Austrian-German host family preferred simple foods like lentil soup, sausages, potatoes and dampfnudeln on Christmas Eve. The kids waited for a bell that heralded that the Christkind had brought their gifts. Dutch Christmas is not such a big deal because they already had Sinterklaas in November. Christmas in the Netherlands is mainly about having dinner with family on December 25 (First Christmas Day) and having dinner with friends on Second Christmas (aka Boxing Day for the rest of us).
One is the loneliest number
Even though I had many a Christmas away from home, one year was especially hard. I had no one around. I was lonely and I missed my family and friends back in North America. I felt like the Little Match Girl...with an income. I craved something familiar but didn’t want to spend so much money to make a Christmas just for myself. So I booked a last minute ticket to London and spent the holidays with my friend and her family. It just felt good to be around cheerful people and help to get everything ready, just like I did at home. I wrapped myself in the warm fuzzy feeling that Christmas brings and Skyped with my family during the festivities.
This year I’m hosting Christmas dinner. I picked the food I like and I’ll introduce others to what Christmas means to me. I’ve been a part of someone else’s Christmas for so long, now it’s time to own it.
Expat’s Guide to Surviving Christmas Abroad
Somehow I made through all these years, so let me share my very own Christmas survival tips. Here’s a quick list of 7 things to keep you sane during an international Christmas:
1. Get your peeps back home to send you cards and care packages.
2. Set up a Skype call with loved ones.
3. Start a gingerbread house making workshop.
4. Tag along with someone else’s Christmas.
5. Find your nearest expat community, there’s bound to be something festive. They’ll be missing Christmas too.
6. Do something completely new. E.g. Take that trip you’ve been putting off.
7. Check out what Christmas is like for the locals.
If there’s no local Christmas, set one up and show them your holiday cheer!
More than anything else, the one thing you need is to ***find the joy around you***. There are a lot of positives just waiting to be discovered. Whether it means importing some Christmas cheer or getting it locally, Merry Christmas to you :)
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