First, let me say that this post is loaded with privilege. Not everyone has a good relationship with family, or positive holiday experiences, and on top of that has the ability to be overseas missing them. I’m very grateful for my family and for the opportunities I’ve had to travel long-term. Also, it’s a very Christmas-oriented post, but feel free to replace the C-word with your holiday or non-denominational celebration of choice!
Whether you’re working on the other side of the world without the means to go home for a visit, or choosing to take advantage of days off to travel, it can be tough to be away from home for the holidays. Here are some ways to ease the ho-ho-homesickness:
12. Technology, baby! This seems like an obvious one, but a lot of people feel like they should disconnect when they travel. This can be relaxing for sure, but it’s worth it to get in touch with your family through Skype or FaceTime. Yes, it’s likely that you’ll be passed from relative to relative as they wave and yell that they can’t hear you, but it’s nice to be ‘there’!
11. Bring Christmas with you. In South Korea, I was able to find cheap Christmas decorations at Daiso (like the Dollar Store) and from other foreign teachers. If you’re not in a country that celebrates, make decorations yourself! Or better yet, if you happen to be a teacher, do Christmas crafts at school and make lotsss of samples (or ask your kids to make extras as a “present for teacher”).
10.Embrace local Christmas traditions. When I spent the holidays with friends in Sydney, we had a truly Australian Christmas day. We made a a ton of food (and sangria) and brought it down to the park for a picnic. We embraced the sun and played outside with the Aussies in our shorts and t-shirts.
9. Embrace local non-Christmas traditions. In Malaysia (a predominantly Muslim country), December 25th is a good day for a wedding! I was lucky enough to be invited to a friend of a friend’s Christmas Eve bachelorette picnic (complete with a menacing horde of monkeys stealing the party favours), and a Christmas Day wedding in traditional Malaysian baju kurung (complete with SO MUCH FOOD).
8. Start new traditions! In Sydney, we combined the Australian-style summery Christmas day with a Canadian style feast on the 24th (as well as maple syrup with breakfast the next morning)! A German friend brought stollen, a Spanish boyfriend made paella, a Korean friend taught us how to write Merry Christmas in Korean, and we raised our glasses in different languages.
7. Distract yourself. Last year, I spent Christmas in Siem Reap. After calling my family, I opted for maximum relaxation and minimal thinking about what day it was. I spent the day sitting by the pool eating tropical fruit, wandering around town and gorging myself on cheap food and beer, and finishing the day off with a massage. (Not recommended right after eating, unless you want a near-vomit experience.)
6. Hang out friendsss. When I went to Malaysia over Christmas, I was lucky enough to be staying with a good friend. Although she didn’t celebrate, she made the day unique by taking me up Penang Hill for a stunning view of the city, and by subjecting me to the fragrant wonders of durian while I chatted with my family over Skype. Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to go to a Malay wedding, and the holiday wouldn’t have felt as special.
5. Fiiiiive golden rings.
4. Stick with your traditions. As much as possible, import your holiday traditions to wherever you are. Listen to Christmas music after November 1st! (Guilty.) Watch Rudolph and The Grinch! If you normally exchange gifts or open stockings on Christmas Eve, do it! Stay connected with your family and friends by sending out good, old-fashioned Christmas cards (or postcards).
3. Make food that reminds you of home. My friends and I made Canadian/American Thanksgiving happen in South Korea, even though we didn’t have ovens. We rotated dishes through a tiny convection oven, and used all the elements on the stove while Friends Thanksgiving episodes played in the background. We found pumpkin pie at Costco, and accepted that fried chicken was the closest we were going to get to a turkey.
2. Two turtle doves.
1.If you can swing it, try to be home. Check sites like Skyscanner for cheap tickets, and book early. I wasn’t able to be home for what turned out to be the last Christmas my family had with my Grandma (luckily, I was able to Skype in). Often, it’s impossible or unrealistic to get there, but if it’s a really important holiday for you and your family and there’s a possibility that you can make it (even if it’s a stretch), you won’t regret it.