The Christmas period is traditionally a time for families to get together, but not all expats manage to make it home for the festive season. If you will be in your new home country for the celebrations this year, have you thought about how to make the best of it? What if your family can’t join you? We covered the subject last year but I thought it would be useful to take a fresh look at ways to survive the Holidays and maintain the festive spirit from afar.
Different countries have different traditions
In countries like the UK, a traditional Christmas usually means opening gifts on Christmas Day. In some countries they open their presents on Christmas Eve. In Denmark they start celebrating on the first of December, taking part in ‘Hygge’, which basically means ‘warmth and cosiness’, spending time with friends and family throughout the month. You may even find that your new home doesn’t take part in any kind of celebration at this time of year. So is it better to join in with the local style of celebrating or create a home-from-home experience?
It’s a matter of horses for courses. Some of the expats I talk to prefer to celebrate the way they always have, others have a wonderful time joining in with local traditions because they feel it helps them integrate.
A great time to break the social ice
Wherever you live, the festive season is a time of goodwill, making it a particularly good time for meeting new people, visiting your neighbours and getting a better feel for the way the local people live.
Getting together with fellow expats
The downside of all the celebrations is often loneliness. It’s a sociable time of year and it’s a great time to get together with your fellow expats, especially if your family can’t be with you. The up side is that everyone who stays in their new country for the Holidays is in the same boat, so there will be lots of social events to throw yourself into.
Accessing social networks, photo sharing sites and VOIP services
Screen-to-screen calls can make all the difference between feeling isolated from your loved ones. As can social networks like Facebook, image sharing networks like Flickr and Photobucket, where you can upload and share your holiday photos.
You can hook up with Skype in most countries although in some, for example Dubai, it isn’t available. Google Hangouts is useful but it isn’t available in every country either. At the moment you can’t start a Hangout On Air from China, Thailand or Vietnam but the situation is fluid, so check first. Do your research early, make sure you’re connected to your family well in advance and enjoy the best that virtual contact can offer.
Planning ahead to save travel costs
Many of my expat contacts have set up a system whereby they fly ‘home’ for the festive season one year and their families fly out for a visit the next year. They feel that alternating in this way covers the best of both worlds and helps keep seasonal homesickness at bay. It’s usually a good idea to book travel as far in advance as you can since it’s often much more expensive when you leave it until the last minute.
Ordering traditional foods from home versus going native
Food is one of the things that can make or break the Christmas holiday. You might want to try out local dishes and throw yourself into some of the local specialities. Order traditional foods from home to make the day feel special. Or blend the best bits of the two, old country and new, for a unique ‘fusion’ culinary treat.
Make up your own unique way of celebrating the festive season
There’s no law that says you have to celebrate in a prescribed way. One expat I spoke to admitted that their family has taken the opportunity to create a unique way of celebrating Christmas that has very little to do with tradition. If you have always found this time of year a trial, moving abroad is your opportunity to set up a new tradition that suits your temperament and tastes better.
Avoiding the Holidays altogether
As a general rule when you throw yourself into an event with enthusiasm and gusto, you’ll have a wonderful time. But not everyone loves the festive season. Some people find it an ordeal. If that’s you and you’re an expat, it’s the perfect opportunity to ignore it altogether and do your own thing!
Enjoy our in-depth expat country guides
For more information about making a success of your move abroad, why not download our free eBook, The New Expat? It covers medical considerations, family matters, accommodation issues, financial arrangements and plenty more to make your expat life easier. We also release a handful of fresh Country Guides each month, each packed with country-specific information to help you make the most of your new home. This month’s new guides include Qatar, Poland and Australia.
What is your favourite culinary discovery?
How did your first Yuletide in your new country go? We would love to share your experiences – You can either leave a comment below, connect with us on @now_health on Twitter or on the Now Health Facebook page.