Christmas… the very word evokes a wealth of memories, often seen through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia or blurred by kitschy holiday movies and even kitschier TV commercials.
Christmas is an occasion to celebrate with your loved ones, when your home is full of festive decorations, your table is laden with a home-cooked meal, and every single family member, from the nonagenarian great-aunt to the two-year-old toddler, is smiling in perfect holiday cheer. At least in your imagination — reality often looks quite different.
Loneliness during the Christmas holidays is a common plight. Not only does it often affect senior citizens, but some expatriates might also face the dilemma of having to spend Christmas on their own.
You moved abroad for a great new job, and maybe you were single at the time or love didn’t survive the challenges of an international long-distance relationship. Some expats also leave their families temporarily behind for a short-term project or a career opportunity in a high-risk location.
Then, suddenly, it’s that time of the year again: your new friends from the local expat community are preparing to leave town, and all flights home are overbooked or only available at astronomical prices.
What’s the lonely expat to do? Make the boss happy and work through the holiday season? Spend a couple of solitary evenings with a microwave dinner and the ultimate Christmas movies (Die Hard and the 1990 sequel)?
If that isn’t quite how you are imagining the festive season, here are five ways to make yourself a merry little Christmas abroad:
The Family Type
If you have plenty of relatives and friends you’d like to spend Christmas with, but happen to be separated from them by a few oceans or continents, the internet will be a life-saver. How about scheduling an online Christmas party? Just find a slot that’s as convenient as possible for all time zones involved and treat yourself to a decent web cam plus headset as your Christmas gift.
You can all agree beforehand to dress up in festive clothing (or your tackiest Christmas sweaters), put on exactly the same background music, and prepare the same meal. Make yourselves comfortable and unwrap the mutual holiday packages live. Only the hugs and kisses will still be virtual.
The Gregarious One
If you are that kind of person, you probably won’t have to worry about a lonely Christmas, not even if you have recently moved halfway round the globe. You are outgoing and find it easy to make friends. You have already met your new neighbors, know the names of all co-workers on your floor, and have probably joined a book club or gym.
Perhaps you have even managed to find some local friends who are generous enough to invite you to their home on Christmas. This is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the peculiar customs of your adopted home, be they time-hallowed or of more recent date. (If you spend Christmas, for example, in Germany or the Czech Republic, be prepared to sit through at least one showing of the 1973 fairy-tale film Three Nuts for Cinderella.)
For you, Christmas isn’t all about gorging yourself on mince pies, panettone, or cured ham, and splurging on expensive gifts. You enjoy making other people happy, and you don’t hesitate to give your time. If you identify with this description, there’s only one way to spend the holidays: volunteer.
If you live in a destination where Christmas is widely celebrated, plenty of local non-profits — Christian charities, inter-faith projects, and secular organizations — organize Christmas dinners for the elderly, the poor, and the homeless. Even though you might still have trouble with the language barrier, this shouldn’t deter you from offering to take care of decorations or do the dishes.
Christmas isn’t an official holiday in your new home? Then your helping hands may be needed for another good cause. Either way, you’re bound to get to know new people — and perhaps make friends beyond the holiday season.
Chances are that you find yourself saying “Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without…” every year. You probably hate popular holiday hits such as “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Last Christmas” (okay, I don’t know anyone who actually loves “Last Christmas”, so that might not be a unique feature of yours).
In short: you want your holiday season to be quiet, quaint, and a bit old-fashioned. Perhaps you’ll be happiest if you see the prospect of a solitary Christmas abroad as the chance to have that peaceful celebration you have always wanted.
Wait until it gets dark and light a few candles — real beeswax, please, no blinking fairy lights — and deeply inhale their smoky, honeyed scent. Then curl up with a mug of hot cocoa (or a cool drink, depending on the local climate) and a good book, like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol or perhaps some non-fiction about Christmas traditions around the world. If your room should get a bit too quiet, a CD with traditional carols, The Nutcracker suite, or Händel’s Messiah should do the trick.
The Lone Wolf
Silently crying into your mulled wine and feeling sorry for yourself? That’s definitely not how you plan on spending the holidays. Others might describe your Christmas as “lonely” — you simple see it as an opportunity to get some precious “alone time”.
Now you’ve relocated to another country you have finally found the perfect excuse to avoid the high-strung family drama back home: no emotional blackmail from divorced parents, no temper tantrums from spoiled nephews and nieces, no rants about “kids these days” from your curmudgeonly great-uncle, who has conveniently forgotten that you reached the age of majority twenty-five years ago.
You’re looking forward to doing whatever you want! Nobody is going to give you grief for spending Christmas at the hottest cocktail bar or loudest karaoke party in town, for pampering yourself during an extended spa day, or kick-starting a new hobby, while spending the holidays with your oldest friend: yourself.
Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it!
(Image credit: iStockphoto)