Christmas abroad

In Expat Life, Keeping in touch by Carole Hallett Mobbs2 Comments

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How to experience Christmas overseas

Christmas is swathed in cultural and family tradition so living overseas can mean a very different Christmas experience for you!

Cultural differences

It’s a good idea to try and carry forward some of your family traditions with you to your new country.
Having spent Christmas in both America and Australia I know Christmas can differ wildly from country to country. Christmas is all about the tradition and that’s exactly what makes it so special to each country and to each family. And that’s why it’s a good idea to try and carry forward some of your family traditions with you to your new country. So whatever family traditions you are used to it’s important to try to recreate these (or some of these) to make Christmas abroad feel like Christmas at home.

It’s also an opportunity to create new traditions and customs, which in future years you can take with you to the next place! Think of it as enhancement. Christmas is a composite of family traditions taken from yours and your partner’s families. Then as you have children you create your own set of traditions and so it is with spending Christmas abroad. If your life is made up of living in different countries then it’s a good idea to celebrate this and take a little piece of each country with you each time you celebrate Christmas.

Embrace where you are right now

Living overseas means you can also celebrate something very special about where you are. It may not be a tradition you can take with you but embrace what’s there and really enjoy what is special about spending Christmas in that particular country. For example, when I was in Australia I was swimming on Christmas day – not something which is normal in England but definitely very enjoyable.

Every country has different and distinctive ways of decorating for Christmas.
The other interesting point I found was that every country has different and distinctive ways of decorating for Christmas. So if you’re the creative sort you can pick up all sorts of new ideas about the way you decorate and then just enrich it.

Christmas away from the family

Obviously Christmas is a time where we think about being with our loved ones and if you can’t be with your family then I recommend fixing times to connect with them. Everyone is busy on Christmas day and we all have our own schedules so you don’t want to phone someone just as they’re sitting down to the big meal. There are lots of ways to connect but I do suggest you organise it in advance.

Modern technology means we can connect with someone on the other side of the world easier than ever before. You can even Skype Grandma as the grandchildren are opening their presents so she can see it and not miss out! If you’re expecting to speak to your family then it will be terrible if it doesn’t work out as the disappointment will spoil your big day so do make sure you know what’s happening in advance. Plan it!

Having said that, don’t make the people you’re missing more important than the people you’re with. Cherish who you are able to spend Christmas with.

Sending gifts from overseas

As I’m writing this, it’s a few weeks to Christmas and already the shops are full of decorations and the annual Christmas songs are blasting out! So if you’re living overseas and haven’t yet managed to get all the presents bought and posted and you’ve missed the postal deadlines, a great way to buy and send presents is to go online to sites which are based in the country where your recipients live – this way you save on postage and can post last minute! So all is not lost if you’ve not got round to sending your presents, or you’ve forgotten someone or missed the last postage.

The Christmas spirit

And finally, Christmas abroad is all about attitude. You need to decide you’re going to enjoy Christmas abroad because if you focus on what’s missing then it’s going to make for a very miserable day. Whereas if you focus on making it a really fantastic day and embracing what’s there then you will have a fabulous day. So attitude is everything and all that’s left to say is … I wish you a very merry one!

If you’ve ever spent Christmas abroad or if you’re planning your first Christmas overseas this year, then I’d love to hear what your plans are!

Merry 2014 Christmas from Carole!

As a family, we have spent Christmas in Japan, Germany and now South Africa, and I can confirm that in each country, the Christmas focus is radically different!

Japan is not a mainly Christian country so Christmas is not celebrated in the ‘traditional’ way: all the shops are open each and every day and it’s business as usual. When we first arrived there, very few Christmas decorations were to be found although this changed as the years passed. Christmas wrapping paper was non-existent away from the ‘foreign’ supermarket. We would spend our Christmas morning opening gifts and feasting a fairly traditional Christmas meal (we don’t eat a Christmas turkey in our family), then Mother and I would head off into the city for a lovely shopping trip.

In Berlin the opposite was true. As Germany pretty much invented the Christmas us Brits recognise, this was all wonderfully traditional. I spent many a happy hour in the dedicated Christmas decoration shop in Berlin – Käthe Wohlfahrt which is open all year round. And as for the legendary Christmas markets… wow! Trekking around beautifully lit market stalls in the snow, stopping for hot Glühwein and enjoying the ambience made for a memorable and extremely Christmassy experience.

South Africa focuses mostly on the religious aspects of Christmas and is a quieter, less overt celebration. And it is summertime here in December, which is an aspect I find disconcerting.

I’d like to wish you all a very merry Christmas wherever you are in the world.

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Comments

    1. Author

      This will be my 3rd Christmas in South Africa and I still can’t get used to the temperature here – it’s currently nearly 40 degrees and just ‘wrong’ in my opinion!

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