Surviving the holiday season abroad: A First Timer’s Guide

by Melissa on January 7, 2012 · 2 comments

Christmas 2011 marked the first holiday season I’ve spent away from my family, half a world away.  While I have missed out on numerous family Thanksgiving and Easter holidays – there’s something different about missing Christmas.  In my family, Christmas is a big thing – we have the big fancy dinner on Christmas Eve at a nice steakhouse with all 40+ family and “adopted” family members.  Christmas Day we have a quiet family day in, gorging on delicious home-cooked food courtesy of my parents, opening presents, and just hanging out together with my mom’s brother.This year I knew it would be a bit more difficult for me since I wouldn’t be surrounded by family and the usual traditions of the season.  I found myself in Northland, New Zealand with my good friend, Kate and her boyfriend, Thom – my home for the next 5 months.  So while I didn’t have my family members around, it was close enough having Kate and Thom – at least I wasn’t completely alone- and that was going to be the main factor in surviving the holiday season abroad.
Here are some steps I took to alleviate my fear of missing out during the holidays, this year:
  • Surround yourself with the familiar Whether it’s continuing with certain traditions, or keeping company with people you already know – if at all possible, try to keep some sort of familiarity.  While you may be in an environment that is completely unlike the norms of the holiday season (as I was, spending a summer Christmas in New Zealand), it was comforting to have some semblance of normalcy.
  • Don’t put too much thought into the significance of the season Quite simply, I tried to not treat Christmas any different than any other day of the year.  At the end of the day, Christmas IS just any other day – but we try to make it into some special thing by creating traditions and buying presents and stressing out.  I decided to just ignore the fact that at home everyone else was celebrating in the usual ways.  Ah gotta love the taste of sweet, sweet denial.
  • Keep in touch with family at home I knew it was important to my family to be able to connect with me on Christmas – even if it was only via skype.  Heck, it was pretty important to me too.  It’s rare that I get all my family together in one spot, thus making it easy for me to say hi to everyone.  In fact, the last time I spoke to the majority of my family was on Canadian Thanksgiving when we skyped (a mere week after I had left home).  Whether it’s a phone call, or a skype chat…make sure you do take time to check in and say hi.  Even if it doesn’t mean a lot to you, it’ll mean the world to them.
  • Keep it simple I guess this kind of goes along with “don’t put too much thought into the significance”.  Don’t feel the need to go out and buy tons of gifts and mail them home- its unnecessary and expensive. That being said, I did get a few knick knacks back in Hong Kong for my immediate family and sent them off, as well as a few sweatshirts for my cousin’s babies – but other than that, I didn’t really buy anyone much.  At the same time, I didn’t expect anything in return.  I knew being abroad that the possibility of having Christmas presents under the tree was slim to none.  Thankfully my friends (and current flatmates) are awesome and got me a few little things– a rubbish bin (I needed one and was super thankful to get it), a few chocolate bars, and a few card games.
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So while my Christmas this year was spent at the lake having a BBQ with friends on Christmas eve, and then having a pot luck lunch and lucky draw gift exchange with my flatmate’s family and their family friends – it was still a really nice way to spend the holidays.  No, it didn’t quite feel like Christmas in the typical sense – but it added to the fun of the season.  Getting to experience a summer Christmas was a new adventure, and the fact that I was surrounded by friends and their families – it still reinforced the ideals of the season.Have you ever spent Christmas away from loved ones?  What are some of your coping tips for surviving the holiday season abroad?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah March 10, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Love this post, great advice! The Christmas just gone was the first I had spent away from home and I had to do these things to keep me from missing the family too. Luckily for me it rained in Sydney so it felt like home anyway!

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Melissa March 29, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Hahaha! Well I’m glad that the weather was able to remind you of home 😉 When I experienced my first Christmas abroad it was the polar opposite of what I had grown accustomed to – usually have white Canadian Christmases whereas I was now experiencing a beach Christmas in NZ!

Glad you enjoyed my little bit of advice.

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