5 Expat Tips | Celebrating the Holidays Abroad

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Expat Community in Daegu

Expat Community in Daegu

5 Tips to Celebrating the Holidays Abroad

At first I thought celebrating the holidays abroad might be fun. Then the closer it got to the holidays, loneliness started to creep in. No family around or old friends to celebrate with, what was I to do?…  I began to panic.  Luckily, when each holiday came, I found a way to survive and thrive.

So how are expats and travelers bringing their home into their life abroad? How are they celebrating the holidays and their cultural traditions far from family and friends? Here are some ideas…

1) Hold loose expectations

Not all countries celebrate the holidays to the extent we do in the western world and a country’s lifestyle and cultural gap may make it broader. Most of Asia, for instance, celebrates their New Year in February using the lunar calendar and Christmas is usually celebrated in countries where Christianity is present.

2) Let the cultural flow surprise you

So what if Christmas or Thanksgiving doesn’t feel exactly the same as you remembered it? Sometimes, this is not a bad thing. Instead, it’s an opportunity to see how it’s celebrated in another parts of the world. Do South Koreans go crazy for Christmas? Koreans they may not have sidewalks lined with Christmas pine trees, but they sure go crazy for cake!

What were families racing to buy on Christmas Eve? It’s not Christmas trees, it’s cake!
Lines outside the bakeries were long and all types of celebratory cake designs were on sale.

3) Celebrate it with new friends, who are excited to recreate it with you.

Expat communities do it all the time. Just as travelers share the mutual bond of being a tourist to a foreign place, expat communities share the bond of creating a lifestyle abroad. Sometimes, these lifestyles seek to recreate a bit of tradition, but due to the lack of available fixings in the environment, must be done so through slight “workarounds”.

During Thanksgiving, many expat groups threw potluck gatherings to celebrate; some expat organizations sold Thanksgiving meals, complete with cranberry sauce, stuffing, etc… Holidays don’t have to be spent alone; they can be spent with those who miss good ‘ole western holidays too.

My vegan tofurkey Thanksgiving with friends at Buy the Book Cafe

4) Share your tradition and celebration with others.

Holidays are the one time that seems to work outright, against being solo. Often because it’s often about sharing and celebrating with others. Nevertheless, you can still be solo and eat your cake with others. Just as you might thrill over experiencing the festivities of foreign holidays, others can find the same delight in your own customs and holidays. Sharing your holidays with others when you’re abroad, is an excellent way to feed the spirit and whether you actually celebrate it fully or not, you won’t feel without.

When I got to share my enthusiasm for Halloween and Thanksgiving with my Korean students and teachers, I was a celebrating it. Feeding others’ excitement for my culture, replicated those holidays for me and fed my true spirit of celebration.

5) Growing your Heart through Volunteering

Who is the number one person that I think of when the holiday season arrives? Honestly? Me. But the holidays are a perfect time to increase your heart span and think of others. The holiday season is a fantastic time to give your time to others through volunteering. You don’t have to travel outside of your city to share your generosity; you can donate your time to the local soup kitchen, an old folks home, an orphanage or larger local organizations, such as Meals on Wheels or Big Brothers, Big Sisters. If you are traveling and have a chunk of time to spend in one place, you may want to look into volunteering at children’s organization or orphanage (see Nomadic Chick’s post on Christmas in India).

What are your ideas for celebrating the holidays abroad as an expat?

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8 Comments. Leave new

  • Great article. Indeed it is totally different when you wanna celebrate Christmas in another country….

    This year I am in Tokyo – Japan. Here people go to KFC, buy some chicken, and go bac home or they go out as couple to celebrate Christmas.

    I don’t like KFC food and I am single. So instead I decided to gather many people with me to have fun together.

    We bought many Santa Claus’ hats, and during all night we did put them on the statues in Tokyo, so when people woke up they so many many Santa Claus in Tokyo….

    That was fun and memorable….

    • @tunimaal: Congrats on the get together and spreading the holiday spirit through Tokyo. I love the idea of putting up Santa hats on statues! Actually, I heard Japan was a big “couples” place during the holidays. Glad you still celebrated the Xmas festivities abroad! Happy Holidays!

  • We celebrated holiday season in Orlando Florida with my relatives there… and it was so much fun. Christmas shopping was so extravagant. The crowd in the streets is so inspiring seeing those families walking together with all their gifts wrapped and ready for giving. It is one of the best holiday celebrations I ever witnessed.

  • Avatar
    Laura in Cancun
    January 1, 2011 12:43 am

    Great advice! I have been to some expat Thanksgivings before, which are fun!

    I still can’t quite bring myself to celebrate Christmas here in Mexico, though. I have to travel home for that still haha

    • @Laura: I’m envious that you got to go home to Charlotte! You totally fooled me– I thought you would definitely celebrate in Mexico with Jorge! But I guess, for the biggie holidays like Christmas, there’s really “no place like home.” Happy New Year to you & your family!

  • Great tips! We often find ourselves away from “home” at the holidays – I love seeing how other cultures celebrate them (or don’t).

    • @Andrea: Thanks. I agree– it’s interesting to see the variations and cultural interpretations of the holidays. I think as travelers we all appreciate that kind of “reinvention” (even sometimes, rejection) of home. 😉


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