In the lead up to Christmas, there was one phrase that I kept hearing over and over again. Despite the decorations, the tinsel, the lights, and the impromptu Christmas carol karaoke sessions that my roommates and I broke into, there was an undeniable consensus that “this doesn’t feel like Christmas”.
And this isn’t the first time I’ve felt like this. And I know it’s not just me. It seems to be a pretty common scenario for expats. No matter where in the world you find yourself, or how long you’ve been away, there’s something about being abroad that takes away that Christmasy feeling.
So what exactly does Christmas feel like?
For me it feels like a big, warm hug. It’s comforting, generous, special, loving and familiar. There’s something really reassuring about knowing that no matter what else happens in the year, at Christmas time everyone in the family will come together and spend time with each other, chatting, laughing, swapping gifts and eating delicious food.
When you’re living abroad and away from your family year-round, Christmas can sometimes be a pretty painful reminder of all of the celebrations that you’ve been missing out on throughout the year. You might start to feel a bit down and wish that you were somewhere else. But rather than focusing on everything that you’re missing, which is a guaranteed way to make you feel miserable, the trick is to switch your focus to what it is that you’re gaining by being in this different environment.
Who are the friends that have become your family in the life that you have created abroad? Can you let them know how much they mean to you? Could you write them a letter to tell them all the ways that they’ve made your time abroad special and all of the things that you appreciate about them? This was the genius idea of one of my roommates this year and an amazing thing to do at Christmas.
Can you spend some time on Christmas reflecting on all the things you love about your current home?
Can you begin your very own Christmas tradition? Something unique and meaningful to you that you can do year in and year out no matter where you are in the world.
Can you take advantage of your surroundings and do something that you’d never be able to do in your home country? Build a snowman, go for a Christmas swim, kayak to a deserted island, go sledding, ice skate on a frozen lake, go to a special lookout point to watch the sunset…
The wonderful thing about Christmas abroad is that whilst it might not feel like the Christmas you’re used to, you can make it a really special day and create new memories that will last a lifetime.
So savour where you are, spend time with people you love and bask in the uniqueness of where you’re currently living. Christmases will come and go, but you’ll only have this particular Christmas once, so make sure you stay present and make the most of it.
This year I’m spending Christmas in Phuket. I’ll visit an orphanage in the morning, have a raw vegan Christmas lunch (whoever would have thought?!) and then hop on a speed boat to an idyllic island to sip coconuts and sunbake with new friends. It might not be my regular Christmas, but it’s certainly going to be one to remember. I hope yours is just as memorable.