Spending Christmas abroad can be exciting and opens your eyes to how other cultures celebrate this festive time of year. Having the chance to take part in celebrations on the other side of the world is what many travelers consider to be one of the highlights of their travels. But at the same time, Christmas is a time to spend with your family and friends and this can make anyone homesick.
When I spent my first Christmas abroad (I taught English in Japan for a year) I was excited and felt like a real adventurer, someone who has the courage and strength to be in a completely foreign land for the holiday season. I felt I was strong enough not to let all the nostalgia of missing out on my families Christmas traditions back home bring me down. But when the day came, I did feel sad and a bit alone for not being home with my family and, chances are, you will too. It’s a tough time of year to be away from home but I found these tips not only helped me get through the holidays but also gave me an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.
1.Explore The Holidays Were You Are
You’re traveling or living in another country for a reason, so go out and explore! See how the country you’re in celebrates the holidays by wandering the markets, attending cultural shows or anything else you may come across. This is the time of year where everyone is out and spreading holiday cheer so get in on the action!
2. Connect With Others From Your Home Country
Now I don’t mean to completely disregard your local culture and hole yourself up behind closed doors with your best mate from back home. What I do mean is that you will get homesick at this time of year and you will miss hearing your native tongue, that Canadian (or Aussie, or German, etc) accent and traditions from back home. Having someone from your home country to share in the holidays will make you feel less isolated and will allow you feel some familiar in the unfamiliar. I had my fellow Canadian and Aussie teachers with me and we were all in the same situation. We supported each other, went Christmas shopping together and planned some of our own traditional holiday events so we’d have some familiar in the unfamiliar.
3. Plan Something Special For Christmas Day
Make sure you have something special planned and something to look forward to on the big day. Whether it’s opening presents in the morning with your roommates/hostel mates, organizing a secret Santa gift exchange or putting together a traditional turkey dinner, just do something! This way you won’t feel like you’ve completely missed the holiday. Having your own main event to look forward to will make sure you don’t feel down or depressed on the 25th. This is especially important if your living/traveling in a country that does not put a large emphasis on Christmas.
4. Invite Locals and Other Travelers to Share In Your Christmas Traditions
By now you’ve surely connected with other travelers and maybe even befriended a few locals. Share your traditions with them! In my experience, other travelers and even locals are just as interested in traditions from my country as I am in their theirs. Maybe organize a potluck Christmas dinner where everyone brings a dish from their home country. This will allow you to experience some of your Christmas traditions while also taking part in those from other cultures.
5. Set Time Aside To Connect With Your Family
Time change and schedules make this one hard but worth the effort. Plan ahead with your family and friends to set aside a time and date to say hi and connect. Maybe just before everyone sits down for Christmas dinner so you can say hi to everyone all at once or maybe first thing on Christmas morning. It’s not the same as being there in person but will make you feel a bit less left out.
My year spent living in Japan was incredible and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Knowing that I was going to spend the holidays away from my friends and family didn’t really bother me until the holidays actually came. Rather than feeling sad and sorry for myself, my friends and I gathered together for a big Christmas Day dinner, even though we all had to teach on December 25th! We accepted that this was not a national holiday for the Japanese but we also made sure to celebrate our own culture and traditions. We invited some our Japanese co-workers over for dinner so that they could experience a western Christmas too. Christmas in Japan turned out to be one of my fondest memories during my year abroad!
Have you ever spent the holidays abroad?
Do you have any other tips to add to this list?