How To Be Happy When Stuck Abroad At Christmas

Many expats won't be able to return home for Christmas this year. Despite everyone putting on a brave face, it's still tough for expats and their families back home not to have the Christmas together they were hoping for. So how do you cope when stuck abroad at Christmas?
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The traditions of Christmas are strongly influenced by family and cultural traditions alike. Because of this, it can be difficult for us to refrain from our holiday rituals when being abroad. For some expats, the hardest thing is not to be able to do or have things in a specific way. And others struggle because they can’t escape what happens around them. Local Christmas preparations are hard to watch, if you are going to miss out on your perfect family Christmas this year. So how do you cope? Here are 4 ways how to be happier at Christmas when being stuck abroad.

Way No. 1 – Bringing Together The Old And The New

It always helps to change your perspective! Explore your host country’s Christmas traditions. If you learn more about them, you might spot some really nice ways of doing things. Incorporate these into your own family rituals to create something new. Why not develop your own unique Christmas traditions during your overseas years? It is a bit like getting married. In the same manner, in which you combined the traditions of two families during the first Christmases of your marriage or after having children, you can now incorporate new traditions into your Christmas celebrations from your time abroad.

Think now about the years after your return: how extraordinary would it be if your festivities at home would continue to be enriched by these traditions you brought with you from abroad? Your family celebration couldn’t be more individual, especially later in life, when your children are already grown up and pass on their Christmas traditions to their own families? This way, you keep memories of your years abroad alive and create new rituals for the next generation.

Way No. 2 – Immersing Yourself In The Local Festive Spirit

If you will celebrate Christmas in the sun this year but long for a white Christmas at home with Christmas markets, mulled wine and carol singing, you may be struggling particularly hard. Perhaps the best way forward is to put your own Christmas traditions on hold and immerse yourself in the local festivities. Relaxing on the beaches, party music to dance along? Think of the millions back home who would love to escape the bleak winter weather. A totally different Christmas abroad is certainly worth experiencing! Maybe there are even a few things that you will be “spared” by not being at home this year?! You should appreciate that too. Just resolve to have a great time and make the most of it.

It may also help a little to look ahead. In a few years’ time, you will celebrate another Christmas back home with your family. Being able to share some entertaining anecdotes from your “Oh so very different Christmas back in …” is a nice thought. Wear the hat of a travel journalist and spot the stories worth telling.

Way No 3 – Going For Small And Improvised

In a country where Christmas is not celebrated or celebrated in a very different way to what you are used to, you should focus on what you can have instead of what you cannot have. With a little improvisational talent, you will most certainly be able to create a small Christmas dinner or decorate your home a little bit.

Live your personal Christmas traditions alone at home despite adverse circumstances. This will make them even more meaningful and valuable while you are trying to find your way in a foreign culture. Reflect on what Christmas really is about. Then it does not need much to feel the Christmas spirit.

Way No. 4 – Ignore But Care

Ignoring Christmas is certainly not possible for everyone and probably most difficult for families with children. But if you are alone abroad and not being able to travel home for Christmas, why not make the most of a few days off work?

Learn something new online. Get involved with volunteering, make others happier at Christmas. Or do something to nourish body and soul. Slow down, unplug, detach. Let go of things and thoughts. Watching films is fine too if you don’t end up crying on the sofa!

And The Family Back Home?

Zoom & Co. shrink the distance to loved ones back home. However, because the time difference puts you all on different tracks, you should arrange for suitable call times in advance. It is only disappointing if you call, and everyone has just sat down to eat or is on their way to church. Agree on a fixed time that is convenient for everyone.

Also remember that it is not only you who misses family, but that they must cope with your absence too. So maybe allow more time to let the grandparents watch the grandchildren unwrap their presents. But don’t put yourself and everyone else under too much pressure either. Especially with children, it can be a good idea to just let the webcam run for a bit. Younger children may prefer to talk to grandma and grandpa casually while playing, rather than sitting on the sofa all dressed up and politely reciting “Thank you for my present”.

Christmas abroad is ultimately a question of having the right attitude and making the most of what you have. And here is one more thought that may help you feel a bit happier when stuck abroad at Christmas. Everyone, living abroad or not, once in a while experiences a Christmas that does not live up to expectations. Don’t despair and let’s hope that things will be smoother next year.

Merry Christmas around the world!

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