Making your new location the place to enjoy the holiday season
You have been in your new country for days, weeks, or months. But the holiday season can be lots of enjoyment or just a time to get through. My advice is to make it an opportunity to experience new customs, traditions, festivities, foods, and more in your host country. This does not mean you might not have moments of homesickness, loneliness, or even missing your loved ones. Take feelings of excitement or melancholy all in stride. Reflect on the reason why you are abroad and the experiences you are gaining in the process.
The holidays do seem long, as they stretch over almost 3 months from November to February, based on which ones you celebrate. Regardless of what region of the world you live in and your personal traditions, I encourage you to partake in your local festivities during the season.
So, let me share some ideas for celebrating locally and finding a bit of joy in your new host country.
Gather your new Tribe and Celebrate
One of the best ways to celebrate the holidays is by hosting your own events. If you are living as a solo expat or with your family, turn your home into the gathering place with all of your new friends. Share customs and traditions from home. Celebrating with your new friends will be a good way to lessen the feeling of homesickness. If you are like me and enjoy cooking or baking, put those culinary skills into making your holiday favorites for your guests.
Celebrate the Local Way
Embrace your new surroundings and explore the culture as this was one of the reasons you moved abroad. Celebrate the holidays like a local! Find ways to incorporate traditional activities happening in your host city’s streets, malls, and local venues. Grab your favorite coffee or tea, head into the local neighborhoods to see decorations, accept invitations from your local friends to join them at home or attend celebratory events that holiday. Remember, the holidays might not be the same as yours or fully in your traditional holiday season.
While living in Singapore, I learned to enjoy Chinese/Lunar New Year, which occurs in late January or February. I enjoyed the drum rhythms of the Lion or Dragon Dance and joined in the custom Yu Sheng (aka lo hei), a traditional food ceremony that symbolizes your plans for prosperity for the upcoming year. Partaking in the traditions of the local holiday will enrich your life as it has mine.
Use Technology to Connect to Loved Ones You do not have to miss the special moments at home, thanks to the latest video and messaging options. You can live stream almost any event these days. If it is too early or late for live streaming, have family or friends do a live recording and send you a link to watch later. Another option is to do a video call. You will be able to see and chat with as many people as possible. This way, you can still feel like you are there and catch-up with everyone at the same time.
Make it Feel Like Home
Have some creative fun, and make your experience in your new country feel like home. For example, find a café that serves eggnog or a local coffee shop that sells the ingredients for your favorite festive drink. Decorate your place as if you were home, and make a playlist of your favorite holiday songs. Bake those traditional holiday treats. Invite some colleagues or acquaintances for a holiday cocktail or dinner at your place. What a fabulous way to show-off your decoration or holiday delights. Gather your new friends, make some holiday popcorn and beverages and stream your favorite holiday movie.
Give to your Local Community
The holiday season is a great time to donate in some way to your new host country. It might be your time, talent, or resources. Volunteering during the holiday season is a great way to give back to your local community. Spend some time in a food pantry or delivering meals. Have skills at making handcrafts? Then make a few items for children who might be homeless or live with their family in a shelter.
It is also a great time to do some early repurposing of clothes, shoes, and home items for those in need. You could also donate to a local charity by creating holiday baskets. The gift of time is precious. How about joining a group that visits children in hospitals and distributes gifts to them? Or maybe, you can be a companion to an elderly person for a few hours. These are some fantastic ways to lift the spirits of others and yours in return.
Have an Open Mind
Being candid, your holiday will have a different vibe. It will be different, especially if it is your first holiday season abroad. Work on your mindset to accept the differences. You might like the cold and snow, but you are now in hot and humid. This means winter coat vs. sundress. Or, it might be a difference with the foods. You can get a pumpkin spice latte, but it just doesn’t taste the same. Remember, holiday decorations might also be different in your new home location.
Try to have realistic expectations for your holidays abroad, and you will not be disappointed. Do not put unreasonable pressure on yourself to make it just as if you were back home or to have the perfect holiday season. Give yourself and your family a break as this year, and each year, you will figure out what works best. It is worth repeating: Work on having an open mindset; it is going to be different.
When things don’t seem right during the season, remember you are in a new country. Take solace in the fact that the holidays occur every year. And while it might feel like you are missing out, keep in mind that the holidays will come again. Remind yourself that your time abroad may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. So enjoy your new home’s traditions. It is normal to feel homesick or overwhelmed around the holidays. Don't let those feelings ruin the life-changing experience that is enriching your life.
Experience a variety of holiday traditions locally and enjoy your new surroundings. Most importantly, take some time to enjoy and appreciate the influences (people, traditions, lessons, etc.) from your new place or from the new traditions you’ve started.
Wishing Everyone Season’s Greetings!
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—Karla A. Fraser, New Expats: Five Ways to Celebrate the Holiday Season Overseas Roseapple Global, LLC
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