It was December 24th, but I was the only person out shopping that night thinking about stocking stuffers. I ran down to purchase a few last-minute items, missing my extended family and the unintended tradition of wrapping gifts in a crazy flurry on Christmas Eve.
It wasn’t Christmas Eve for most of the people in Egypt. I was one more person out shopping on a normal night. I was homesick and worried I wouldn’t be able to make the holiday special for my family.
A Blue Christmas?
The holiday season rolls around and many of us overseas become nostalgic.
You remember getting out the Nativity sets and arranging them on the windowsill. Perhaps you think about Thanksgiving dinner where you make your famous pumpkin pie and your cousin brings canned cranberry sauce. You think about delivering cookies to the fire station to tell them you are thankful for their service and helping your kids add extra donations to the Salvation Army bucket.
Now we are far from “home,” and the holiday season starts to sing a lonesome song.
In some countries, it can be challenging to remember that Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. It’s funny how much of a difference commercialization makes.
Our first year in Egypt, I had to remind myself Christmas was three days away. There were no over-the-top store displays, no photos with Santa, no advertisements pushing me to buy the next gift. December 25th could come and go like any other day. (Most Egyptian Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7th.)
It was up to me to make our Christmas celebration what we wanted it to be.
And it turns out, December is a much less stressful month in Egypt, without the pressure of all the extra things that American culture builds in.
Some of the expats I know can start to feel homesick around the holidays, wishing for the traditions and special events that made the season feel like the holidays.
It’s completely normal to miss certain aspects of previous Thanksgivings and Christmases when you can’t be home for the holidays. But with a few tips, you can find ways to lean into the season when you aren’t going home for the holidays.
Embrace the Change
I’ve found that if I hold onto the need for traditions to be exactly the same, I’m always disappointed.
Instead, I’ve learned to adjust my expectations. Look for new ways to celebrate. Adopt new traditions or revamp old ones to fit the context.
Our family combined a few old traditions (drinking hot chocolate on Christmas morning while opening presents) with new ones (read about those down below).
We’ve adjusted our “turkey” expectations on Thanksgiving. One year we even ordered a roasted chicken and just called it a mini-turkey. (Yes, we ordered the roasted chicken because we just needed “easy” that year.)
Invite Others Into Your Celebrations
When we can’t be “home” for the holidays, we love pulling friends into our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. We have invited people of other nationalities over for their first Thanksgiving meal, letting them know we are thankful for them.
Often, we also invite single expat friends over for Christmas morning, putting a few gifts under the tree for them, too. We invite local and expat friends for Christmas dinner, sharing with them the hope of the Word becoming flesh and coming to dwell with humanity.
One young woman we knew had never experienced Christmas dinner before. She celebrated with us for several years in a row.
People tend to be respectful of our traditions. So invite them in!
Not home for the holidays? Discover Somewhere New
If being in your new home on Christmas Day seems too sad, plan a trip. You can go alone or with friends. Plan an adventure or go somewhere relaxing.
Think outside the box! There is no rule that Christmas has to be at home.
Our family will often take a trip to a new destination in Egypt on the day after Christmas. It gives us something to look forward to that brings us together and keeps us from dwelling on not seeing extended family. In addition, the trip lets us experience something new about this incredible country where we get to live, allowing us to grow in thankfulness and appreciation.
The first set of holidays abroad are often challenging because everything is new and we crave familiar routines around our holidays. With time and experience in your host country, you will find new ways to make the holidays meaningful and unique.
NAME YOUR LOSSES
When you can’t be “home” for the holidays, don’t fight the feelings of sadness or discomfort by pushing them away. Embrace grief by acknowledging the losses you have willingly accepted by going to the field.
You won’t be home for the holidays. And while there’s so much good to be had, do acknowledge–not stuff–the losses.
We make sacrifices to go abroad. So you don’t have to pretend that we love every aspect of the sacrifices that we’ve made. We can still love God when we are sad. It’s okay to name and recognize the sadness that comes from the losses.
Among other losses, we experience the loss of
- proximity to family
- our home culture
- our usual routines
The good news is that we have a good and gracious Father who sees our sadness and knows our pain. We can lift these up to Him, asking Him to meet us there and bring us the joy of walking with Him.
With a little creativity and a bit of flexibility, you might fall in love with your new traditions in your host country. You might find new ways to celebrate and new people to share the good news with.
The holiday season can be one authentically full of hope and peace, knowing you get to rejoice in the One who gave us a reason to rejoice.
Like this post? You might like
Rewrapping Christmas Overseas, Part I
Christmas, Rewrapped: Navigating Overseas Holidays, Part II
Memos from a Christmas Robbery
2 thoughts on “When You Won’t Be Home for the Holidays”
Thanks for these recommendations! I personally loved the pocket guide article. Great stuff.