I’m not gonna lie. In some respects, living abroad during the holidays is great. Here in Madrid, lights and trees and decorations are already up all over the city. Thanks to Amazon Prime, my U.S. gift shopping stress doesn’t even register. I may not get to spend all the special days with my besties or family, but if needed, I can distract myself with a 35€ flight to Toulouse or quick train to Sevilla.
But then, I start thinking about this Thursday. It’s Thanksgiving in the U.S. but just a regular day here in Spain. Regular to the point that I’ll be getting a cavity filled at 10:50 am. Regular to the point that I’ll be smooshed in the metro with the other regular-day commuters, thinking of all the roasting turkeys and toasts happening in the U.S.
When you live abroad, there’s a good chance you’ll celebrate solo a time or two. It’s not always possible or practical to get home. But celebrating holidays away from family can wear on even the steadiest heart. There’s a unique loneliness that slinks in no matter how accustomed you are to being away from home. So, what’s an expat to do?
Since we’re looking the holiday season in the face, I say it’s time to get proactive. I’m a girl that loves a plan. I swear, seven out of ten things that plague my inner being can be solved with a decent list. If you know you won’t be with family this year and already feel the tickle of bleak desolation on the fringes of your heart, it’s time to get going! Don’t wait until you’re in the depths of despair with a bottle of tequila on Christmas Eve.
Keep reading for five ways I avoid the lonely that can creep in around the holiday season.
Keep old traditions
If you’re living somewhere that doesn’t celebrate your holiday, seek out other expats. No other country celebrates Thanksgiving but there are Americans in practically every other country! We’ve always found a way to celebrate with a mix of people and there’s something about wanting to recreate a similar tradition that makes people outgoing and welcoming. Another thing is to extend invitations to local friends. Depending on where you’re living, people may be curious about your culture and how you celebrate. At the least, make Facebook’s expat groups your best friend. Many organize or advertise get-togethers for every flavor of holiday.
Make new traditions
After living two holiday seasons in Colombia, I’ll forever light candles on Día de las Velitas and wear yellow underpants on New Year’s Eve (actually, I’m not going to confirm this). The same holidays can be wildly different depending on where you’re celebrating. So maybe you don’t have an oven big enough for a Christmas ham (or you can’t even find a ham). See what everyone else does to celebrate and implement a thing or two into your own traditions. This is a great way to feel more at home in your new home, too.
Serving others is an incredible thing for lots of reasons. It’s a perfect representation of giving spirit of the holiday season. It allows you to feel a part of something bigger. And though it isn’t the most benevolent reason for volunteering, you can’t deny the power it has to switch your focus from inwardly facing to outward. If you don’t already know local expat organizations, do a quick google search since many have fundraisers or similar events during holiday seasons.
Don’t abandon your health!
Besides the yuck of loneliness, there are lots of other things during the holiday season that are just waiting to derail your emotional well-being. Things like extra work, extra treats, shorter days, and dreary weather. Remember, your body craves a steady state. If your routine is to exercise or journal or eat a certain way, keep at it. By all means, indulge, but also keep an eye on how you’re taking care of yourself.
Take it easy on social media
Oh, how I love and hate technology all at once. Definitely, absolutely keep in touch with your loved ones during the holidays. But, make sure you check yourself before hopping on Instagram. If you know that seeing everyone back home at the annual ugly-sweater party is going to make you weepy like the last episode of Downtown Abby, set your phone down and do something else. And before you start feeling lame because you’re decorating a palm tree, remember that social media is the highlight reel of life. Don’t compare yourself to other people and build up their lives more than you know is accurate. I’m sure they forgive you for posting your palm trees during the other 364 days of the year.
Even with this advice, nothing can take the place of friends and family at the holidays. I’d love to hear how you’ve adapted to celebrating solo in your new home or what you look forward to, even while twelve time zones away from your loved ones. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!