5 ways to beat the expat holiday blues

life overseas can be difficult, but especially so during the holiday season. at a time when you normally gather with family, your family is on the other side of the world. and even worse… they are all gathering without you.

I know, I know... I chose to move abroad and give up a lot of great things about life back home. but it doesn't make missing birthdays and weddings and holidays any easier.

for me, late October is when the expat holiday blues start to kick in. and depending on which holidays you celebrate... they can last all the way through Lent. American Thanksgiving is next week and that means I am starting to feel it in full force. BUT. here are some strategies that worked for me last year, to adjust my attitude and make my holidays a little more merry + bright. hopefully they can work for you too!

close, but not quite.
1. celebrate, even if it’s not what you’re used to.

last year when Thanksgiving approached, I was so depressed that I wouldn’t have my usual big family celebration that I didn’t want to do anything at all. but pretending that the holiday no longer exisits doesn’t make anything better. so I got my butt in gear and decided I wouldn’t let only having a toaster oven keep me from baking something, and went out and rocked my first expat Thanksgiving. if it’s something you celebrate, celebrate it.

3. make new traditions.

I’m not going to lie. the fact that Husband has to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas really sucks. the usual lay-around-in-pajamas-all-day was not an option [for him.] but we actually had quite an awesome Christmas, and started a bunch of new traditions we hope to repeat: decorating our tiny tree, Christmas Eve buffet dinner with friends, Christmas morning pancake breakfast, holiday movie marathon, and a feast of appetizers for Christmas dinner. this year, instead of bemoaning that we have to do non-traditional Christmas shopping or that no one we know owns an oven big enough to roast a turkey, we're looking forward to finding new ways to celebrate.

yes, I skype with my cat sometimes.
3. keep in touch.

so you can't be physically with your family while they open presents. but there is this great little thing called technology... use it! my family has a tradition of playing board games together [and drinking] after Thanksgiving dinner. one year when I lived in New Jersey and couldn’t make it back to Michigan, I played a game with them via text message. last year, I played over skype. and for once, the time difference came in handy. I was able to skype with my family on their Christmas eve while it was my Christmas morning, and with Husband's family their Christmas morning and our Christmas Day evening.

4. splurge on some comfort.

buying imported food items can be expensive. but if you’re only going to make green bean casserole once a year, it’s worth spending $8 on french fried onions for that taste of home. [or at least I think so!] if you are living in a location that doesn't have overpriced import stores, check out sites like iHerb for online delivery, or ask your family/friends to mail you some ingredients in their next care package.

5. come together.

chances are, you aren’t the only expat in your area. being with friends who can commiserate is helpful. being with friends who can turn it into a celebration is even better. and hey- maybe some of your local friends would live to experience an American Thanksgiving dinner too. last year our expat friends all got together for a Thanksgiving potluck, and this year we are planning to have twice as many people. and for Christmas, we all went to a nice hotel for a fancy buffet. it's more fun to celebrate with friends... and there are fewer dishes to wash!

hopefully some of these tips can be helpful for anyone out there who won't be spending the holidays with family, expat or not. the trick is you have to choose to make it a great holiday, regardless of where you are or who you're with. I'd love to hear your ideas too - how you fight the holiday blues?

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