What the holiday season is really like when you live abroad

Happy New Year to everyone especially my fellow expats who find it hard at this time of year. The holiday season can be tough at the best of times, but when you are thousands of miles away from your family it can be even more difficult. I have just had my 7th Christmas away from home, and to be honest it seems to just get harder now each year. Being an expat is a funny old thing. You go through different phases from excitement at being somewhere new, which soon wears off and you are sometimes left looking at your old life with rose tinted glasses.

I grew up in Australia, met Dave who is Irish, in Canada, and we both decided to move to the UK. We did this for a number of reasons, 1. we didn’t need visas because I had a UK passport and 2. because the economy was a lot better in the UK than Ireland. For the most part things are ok, although it does get hard especially because neither of us have family in this country. Here is my experience of spending Christmas away from home.

First the excitement

The first couple of years I spent in the UK for Christmas were exciting. This was the Christmas that the cards painted pictures about, and the carols sung about. I got to see Robins on holly bushes, and suddenly there was a need for scarves and mittens, two very Christmassy items, at least in my mind. I tried my first glass of mulled wine and spent Christmas Day tucked up inside with Dave, and the TV on, watching Christmas movies. It was bliss. It was a novelty, something I could really get used to. Or so I thought.

My first Christmas with my in laws

Eventually we started flying out to Ireland to be with Dave’s family at Christmas. It made sense, the flight is under an hour, and when we could get the time off work it was brilliant. I loved it. It was touching to see another family’s Christmas traditions, like the fact that every year Dave’s mum puts a paper stocking he made in primary school on the tree.

I then started thinking about my own family traditions. There was the year my Dad reluctantly put on a Santa suit to handout presents to the grandkids. And I kept trying to recreate the Christmas punch my Mum made every year but just couldn’t find the proper ingredients in England.

Looking back with rose tinted glasses

And so begins the looking back with rose tinted glasses. Somehow when I think of the Christmases of my youth they have now become the best days of my childhood. I know darn well that is not true. But that is what happens when you move away for so long. I mean for starters there was the year that I got gastro and had to spend the day at home while everyone else celebrated. Then there were the Christmases of my teenage years where I would literally wish the day would end so I could hang out with my friends again.

And let’s not forget the times I had to work on Christmas Day which was the less glamorous side of being a waitress while getting my Advertising Degree. But these days I long for those boring Christmas meals, or rolling my eyes at my Dad when he gave me a lotto ticket for Christmas the year I turned 18.

Listening to colleagues and friends doesn’t help

One of the most difficult things for me has to be listening to colleagues and friends tell me all about their Christmas plans. Then comes the onslaught of Facebook posts, the sibling selfies, the photos of other people’s Dad’s passed out on the couch after a tiring day, which can be hard to see. Especially when I want to create my own memories, but can’t. Sometimes it helps just taking a break from the Internet. And don’t get me wrong I love nothing more than spending my holidays with Dave and our tuxedo cat, Bowie, but I think it is fair to say that we both feel a small part of us is missing when we don’t spend it with our families.

Ringing home on Christmas Day is both awesome and sad

When I ring my Dad on Christmas, it is amazing, especially with things like FaceTime. It can feel like we aren’t apart and we sit there chatting for ages. But it is also sad because I hear about what everyone else did on Christmas Day. I spoke to my brother on FaceTime, and my nieces and nephews are growing up before my eyes and I am not there to get to know them and in all honesty it sucks.

Then there is the year I cancelled Christmas

One year I missed home so much that I cancelled Christmas. Thankfully Dave is one of the most understanding people in the world. We ordered a takeaway and spent the day ignoring Christmas. Needless to say that it was not long after this that I booked a much needed trip home for a few weeks. That’s another frustrating thing about being an expat at Christmas, the flights quadruple in price. Especially to Australia when they are expensive enough as it is, but book them in December and sometimes it’s just not affordable.

It’s ok not to be ok

One thing I have learnt is that it is ok not to be ok. Forcing it really doesn’t help. I do try to remind myself why we have moved here, and the good things we have. But I also know it is never going to be easy, and I guess that is something I have to accept. After all it is only a few weeks in the year when I feel like this. Come January when the leftover turkey has been eaten and all the Christmas sweets have gone, life goes back to normal and I keep moving on.

Sometimes we put such an emphasis on having this perfect Christmas but in reality it is just another day of the year. Maybe it is good to miss something though because as A A Milne once wrote “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”. As the holiday season now comes to an end pat yourselves on the back my fellow expats you have made it through another year.

Looking for further reading checkout these posts:

Our worst travel mistakes

Tips to relieving your post holiday blues


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  • Reply
    January 7, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    Oh my gosh, so much to relate to here, but the rose-colored glasses feelings about childhood Christmases is especially true. Everything seemed so perfect in retrospect. And I guess in a way, the holidays were perfect in their own way. I miss making eggnog with my dad and waking up early with my brother. I think it’s time for me to start new traditions with my husband and dog here in France. It’s my 6th year abroad and the holidays have gotten easier luckily. Happy New Year!
    Diane recently posted…Making the positives mean moreMy Profile

    • Reply
      January 7, 2018 at 6:16 pm

      Hi Diane. Nice to know that someone can relate! I agree making new traditions is definitely a good thing too. And something that I also cherish with my husband. X

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