Christmas away from home and family can be a pretty tough experience, but with a few adjustments there’s no reason it can’t still be a time of celebration and warmth. Here are a few tips that have helped me to keep up the festive spirit during the holiday season.
Resist the urge to Hibernate
If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere this December, you might find yourself wanting to crawl under a ton of blankets and only rejoin society in February. YOU MUST RESIST. It may seem like a good idea to bundle up warm and lock yourself away, but this can really feed into the potential loneliness of spending Christmas way from home. If you can, get active, even if it’s just taking an online yoga class or walking to get some coffee at a local coffee place. Exercise not only makes our bodies feel better, it also keeps our minds happier. If you feel yourself turning into a little hibernating bear cub, do the exact opposite and get yourself, and your endorphins moving. Trust me, Netflix is a trap!
Beware the SAD
I moved to Korea almost 2 years ago, and Winter was a pretty big shock to my little South African system. If you’re like me, spending Christmas away from home and sunny skies, you need to watch out for seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s actually pretty common for people to feel the effects of depression during cold and dark months, like we have in Winter in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re finding yourself feeling down, anxious, or lonely more than usual, you might actually have the season to blame! I speak a bit more about seasonal depression in my Winter in Korea Survival Guide, but it’s worth noting that you’re not going crazy, and you may actually benefit from getting a natural light lamp. The Mayo Clinic lists the symptoms of SAD, so you can make sure you’re looking after yourself.
Now, I never need a reason to indulge in some self-care.In fact, I consider a necessity rather than an indulgence, because nobody benefits from me being a burnt out depressed mess. But December is a particularly important time to remember your self-care. Sometimes we can force ourselves to get super busy to keep our minds off of spending Christmas away from home, but make sure you’re giving yourself time to rest, relax, and care for yourself.
I’m definitely not saying you should get yourself into debt, in fact I’m saying the exact opposite, because self-care doesn’t need to be expensive to feel luxurious. Have a look at my tips for self-care for travellers and see if there’s something you can do today to acknowledge the amazing body and mind that have brought you through another year. This is the time to celebrate your victories, lick your wounds, and prepare for the year ahead, make sure you’re looking out for yourself as well.
Change your Focus
This is possibly the most important tip of all that I can give you. You have to change your focus from what you are missing out on, to what you have. It is easy to get bogged down by all the people you are missing or all the events you can’t be a part of, but letting yourself wallow in these feelings is not going to help you. Try to shift your focus to what you can do, what you have, and all the positives of being where you are this season.
Maybe you’re escaping the cold and are having your own tropical Christmas, or maybe you’re experiencing your very first white Christmas just like in the movies. Try to remember what a privilege and a gift it is that you can travel, and fall in love with your life again. Whenever I think about how sucky it is to be spending Christmas far from home, I also try to remember the horrible job I had, and how hopeless I felt before I moved, and that helps me keep things in perspective a little more.
I am not saying that you have to be super cheery, because missing out on family time is hard, but if you let yourself sit in those feelings for too long, you can get into a really bad space. Shift your focus, focus on what you can be grateful for, and reach out to family with how you are feeling. Chances are, they’re missing you too.
Christmas away from Home: The Day Itself
I’m going to be speaking specifically about Christmas because that is my background, but my advice applies to any religious holiday, or just the December festive season in general. Here are some tips specifically for the day of your celebration.
Make New Traditions
It’s tempting to try to recreate your Christmas from back home exactly how you would normally, but this can create a lot more problems than it solves. The closer you try to stick to the rituals and traditions that you know and love, the more disappointed you’re going to be when things go wrong or have to be different. Why not try to create new traditions, that can be carried out wherever you are? Instead of focusing on specific foods or having specific people with you, create small rituals that can be shared regardless of what ingredients you can source, or how many people you have with you.
Think less turkey dinner and cranberry stuffing, and more starting a gratitude journal, or having a festive playlist. Here are some Christmas tradition ideas to get you thinking! Remember, traditions are not about things, but about feelings and relationships, so give some thought to how you can still make people (and yourself) feel included without being in the same room.
Nothing makes me feel more festive than having decorations in the flat. But this becomes difficult when you are travelling, as you might not want to accumulate stuff that only gets used once a year. Either you can waste money each year re-buying all the stuff, or you can get a little more creative and eco-friendly with your decorations. Here’s an awesome article on eco-friendly Christmas decorations that you can make from your recycling pile.
If you’re being super environmentally minded, you’re going to want to only invest in a few non-negotiable decorations, and make the rest with what you have. I find that just having a string of Christmas lights and one or two scented candles makes me feel super happy, so those are the things I will splurge on when I find myself spending Christmas away from home.
This is possibly one of the most important parts of the whole day! But what happens to your festive feast when you don’t have an oven or access to ingredients like you would at home? You actually have a few options here. Last year we found an amazing South African restaurant in Korea, and we made sure to book a Christmas meal with them. It was so fantastic being able to have the taste of home without fretting over expensive imported ingredients or trying to get an oven. Definitely look out for restaurants that serve more traditional festive meals, and get to one if you can, it really does make a difference.
But this year we are out on a tiny island with even more limited supplies and the restaurants are all closing for the off season, so what do we do? Firstly, we have been keeping an eye out for certain ingredients for a while now. What is available, and what should we cross off the list? If you can be prepared ahead of time you will spend less time feeling disappointed, and more time getting creative!
Figure out the flavours that you want and google simple recipes. Remember that you are making new traditions, and embrace the seasonal food around you to make something new and exciting. Maybe you’ll even create your new signature dish, and have a great story to go along with it. If all else fails, find the chocolate and the cocoa and get snuggly!
Spending Christmas away from home often means that you won’t have your family with you, and this can be the hardest part of the whole thing. Last year I was alone in airports for the entire day on Christmas, and it was pretty depressing. But one thing that definitely helped was Skyping and staying in touch with family while I was waiting for my flight. If you can Skype your family or give them a call, I definitely recommend it.
Even if you can just text, or send a voicenote over Watsapp, get in touch with your family and let them know you’re thinking of them, it will definitely help you feel less alone. Why not try to watch the same movie on the day, so that you can feel closer to them? Or organise to have the same candle burning so you can think of them every time you smell it. These things will not only make your family feel loved, they will also help you feel connected while you can’t be present physically.
Research Festivities in your Area
Another great option for either Christmas day or the weeks leading up to it, is to find local activities that you can get involved in. Are there Christmas markets, or a particularly pretty lights display? Are there any traditional festivities taking place that you can join and get to know that traditions of the place you’re in? Maybe there are local expat groups that have get-togethers over the holiday period, and you can make some new friends. Reaching out can be really tough when you are spending your first Christmas away from home, but if you can push through and get out there, it could change the whole way you see the festive season.
One of the wonderful things about travelling is all of the amazing friends you meet along the way. If you are feeling super down about spending Christmas away from home, why not reach out to friends and see if you can put together a Friendsmas instead? If it’s possible, get your friends together, either on the day or leading up to Christmas, and have yourself a merry little Friendsmas party. If there isn’t a way to get together physically, why don’t you organise to Skype or Facetime your friends throughout the day, so that it feels like you’re popping around for a drink? If you know you have Skype dates to look forward to throughout the day, you’ll have a much easier time. And if you are feeling down on the day, your friends will understand because they are travelling too, and together you can feel connected and heard even if you can’t be physically in the same country.
Spending Christmas away from home doesn’t have to mean that you are spending it away from the festive spirit. Find ways to connect, find good food, look after yourself, and most of all, remember what an incredible life you are living that you have things to miss and places to travel to.
I hope you have a very merry Christmas, a happy holiday season, and the best year ahead. xx
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