Five tips to surviving Christmas abroad

1. No expectations, all observations
If you go into the holiday season expecting to have the same warm fuzzies (or holiday dread depending on your family) your expectations will most likely fail you, for better or worse.  Obviously, your folks aren’t there, and no matter how much eggnog you drink or how many lights you wrap around your foreign excuse for a Christmas tree, it is not going to feel the same.

Celebrating Christmas in Australia

However, if you go into your vacay away with no expectations, you can’t be disappointed. Instead take note on how your new location has similarities and differences during the holiday season.  England, for example, is very different on December 25th to Indonesia.

2. Turn your thoughts into action
If you are missing or thinking of someone from back home, don’t just miss them, do something!
Send a friend a cool Christmas card that represents the place you are staying.  It may not be the coolest thing they receive all year, but it’s (1) A nice gesture, and (2) a way to keep your friends from forgetting you.
The same goes for gifts as well, you don’t have to break the bank, but to send something to a loved one is a way to take any holiday isolation you might be feeling and turn it into positive action.  Never forget to put your Skype account to good use either! 

Skyping and Christmas Cards= nice for you, nice for your fam

3. Seek out others near you to celebrate
Maybe you’ve just relocated to Guatemala, or maybe you‘ve been living as an expat in Vietnam for years, but unless you’re living in Antarctica, there’s got to be a neighbour/local/person on the street who is willing to celebrate a special moment with you.  It doesn’t have to be a Christmas party, doesn’t have to be a Hanukah throw-down, don’t let religious cultural barriers get in your way of sharing love with one another.  Here’s a link to ways to say Merry Christmas in over 114 languages! My favourite is
கிறிஸ்மஸ் தின நல் வாழ்த்துக்கள் (Thai).  You could use this opportunity to share how you celebrate in your homeland and learn more about specific traditions within your new country.  Several years now, twice in Australia, and once in Ireland, I’ve convinced myself that Christmas pudding is really worth a second helping.

Christmas pudding is an odd English phenomenon that exists also in Ireland and Australia.  It’s about as tasty as it looks.

 I may not believe it the rest of the year, but you fake it till you make it when you’re abroad at Christmas.  And, if you do happen to be a Christmas/Hanuka/Kwanza  celebrator in Antarctica reading this, send me a message, and lets set up a Skype date to cheers through the interwebs. No one should feel isolated when their home country is rejoicing.

4. Move your body and raise your spirits!!
Speaking of too much Christmas pudding, in many countries, America especially, Christmas is a time to stuff your face.  Not just on the day of Christ’s birth mind you, but, for some folks, pretty much from Thanksgiving onward, you ditch your belts, you up your pants size, you open your mouth and gobble gobble gobble.  I’m not sure it’s in the spirit of the little baby Jesus to forget the definition of moderation, but I for one, don’t worry about that too much, especially once somebody brings out the homemade pie (or cake).

One summer, to save money, I lived only on wedding cake that I got for free from my job…. Typical American diet 😉

It’s true, I’m not one to talk about limits and food, but, I am an emphatic endorser of exercise! Moving your body raises your spirits, even if you did just wash down your frosted sugar cookies with five mugs of cider.  If you are an American abroad, you may not be tempted to eat as much as you were at home, but that doesn’t save you from the alcohol.  While you deal with glorious spectrum of emotions as you come to terms with the fact that your friends and family will be celebrating Christmas without you, remember, they aren’t feeling too sorry for you! You’re in __(insert awesome new place here)______, you’re living the dream, you’re seizing the adventure. So go for a walk in your beautiful new country and remind yourself why you wanted to leave home.  (I can almost promise that any sadness you might be feeling will shift entirely by the time new year’s eve arrives.)

5. If, after all this, if you can’t beat the holiday blues, consider a healthy dose of Ralphie
Or, whatever movie you used to watch growing up during the holidays. It’s a Wonderful Life, a Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or, for some of my more down-to-earth readers, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the movie of choice.  Regardless, if you are far away from home in late December, and you’ve exhausted your options for optimal holidays including lowering your expectations, sending your family Roman rosaries, holding a mini-Christmas party with all the study abroad students in Ireland, or bravely running through the throngs of Hong Kong, there is one last option.

Hong Kong during the Holidays 2011

If you still feel a little off, go succumb to the entertainment world outside yourself.  Watch A Christmas Story, read  A Christmas Carol, find that specific,  that relates to where you’re from, relish it, temporarily, maybe even have a cry, and then, hold your head high, because, ultimately you are brave enough to be abroad at Christmas, and that makes you one tough gingersnap.