Have a Happy Expat Christmas!

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Is this your first Christmas abroad?

First Christmas overseas?

It’s less than a month to go before Christmas. Depending upon where you are in the world the Christmas songs may have been cranked up and the shops may be packed with goodies – and people.

There may be Christmas markets everywhere. And the festive spirit is flowing! Or there may be nothing Christmassy at all. It depends where you are and what you’re used to. Everything may be so far removed from your home country’s traditions that you just don’t know where to find what you need to fulfil your Christmas dreams.

Christmas is all about the tradition and family, so living overseas can mean a very different Christmas experience for you. Your first Christmas overseas can be a very different, unusual and often surreal experience.

You may be travelling for the holiday season; you may be flying back home; or to another country, or perhaps you have family or friends travelling to spend the holidays with you.

Each family and each country have different Christmas traditions and that’s what makes it so special.

It’s a good idea to try and carry some of your existing family traditions with you to your new country. Particularly if you have young children as it helps them settle into their new expat life. So, whatever family traditions you are used to it’s helpful to try to recreate at least some of these to make Christmas abroad feel like Christmas at home.

However, it’s also a great opportunity to create new traditions and customs, which in future years you can take with you to the next place. Think of these new traditions as enhancements. I collect Christmas tree baubles from around the world so each year, these gorgeous enhancements remind me of special Christmases past.

Christmas is a composite of family traditions taken from yours and your partner’s families. Then, as you have children you create your own joint set of traditions, and so it is with spending Christmas abroad. The holiday season evolves to suit your life; your wishes, your needs and your situation.

If your life is made up of living in different countries, then it makes sense 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 in future but embrace what’s there and really enjoy what is special about spending Christmas in that particular country. For example, you could be living somewhere where you could go swimming on Christmas Day. Or something more relevant to where you are!

Think about what is most important at Christmas for you.

What is it about? Giving the children a really exciting time? Making other people happy? Keeping up certain traditions? Relaxing? Consider what Christmas is really about for you and not what the magazines and television say makes the perfect Christmas.

What makes this Christmas different from previous Christmases? Apart from your location, of course. Chances are, it means there will be some people missing from the family dinner.

Obviously, Christmas is a time where we think about being with our loved ones, near and far. If you can’t be with your family, then perhaps set times to connect with them. Everyone is busy on Christmas Day and we all have our own schedules and, of course, time zones. You don’t want to phone someone just as they’re sitting down to the big meal so do your ‘time zone maths’ and plan ahead. Modern technology means we can connect with someone on the other side of the world easier than ever before. You could even Skype Grandma as the grandchildren are opening their presents so she can feel part of it and not miss out.

Having said that, don’t make the people you’re missing more important than the people you’re with.

Christmas is also about food! Don’t assume you can find a turkey where you’re living now. Have a dinner plan B. Not all countries celebrate Christmas. Not all countries have turkeys. Don’t assume you will simply be able to pop out and get what you want. Be flexible in your planning, especially if you haven’t yet had chance to spend much time in your new country before this event. Depending on where you are, you may find an international supermarket where celebration and other familiar food is sold, but expect to pay a premium for certain items. International supermarkets generally only exist in places where there is a large expat population, and therefore the demand – and the price – is high.

Don’t get stressed.

It could be you’ve been organising a Christmas based on what you thought makes you happy according to previous years rather than based on your current reality of your family and living abroad. This could be the chance to rip up the rule book and do something completely different!

Beware of making this holiday season all about one day, the 25th because then there’s quite a comedown after that. Especially when you have little over-excited kids around. So, try to enjoy the run-up as well. How can you make it fun? Plan ahead and have fun exploring when the kids are on their school holidays. When you live overseas there are so many new places to explore, new experiences to enjoy and it spreads out the fun.

Essentially you just need to work out how you can have fun and don’t stress about it all. If you are away from the big family and home traditions, look at this as a chance to have a very special and unique Christmas.

Finally, when the big day comes, have a fantastic Christmas full of love, laughter and good health.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, wherever you are!

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