Guest Post: How to Enjoy Christmas Away From Home

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I won’t say I’ve saved the best for last, since I think you’d all agree that there’s been a great series of Christmas related blogs over the past two weeks, so I’ll just say I’ve saved my favourite person in the world for last.

For the past almost two years Fallon and I have shared a wonderful life together that has spanned one Christmas and is about to span another. At the ripe old age of 27 I’ll finally be spending a Christmas with my significant other, and that alone makes it special.

Fallon keeps a blog on healthy living, healthy food, and travel over at Fallon’s Healthy Life and it was her who got me blogging in the first place.

So read on and discover a few tricks Fallon has learned spending Christmases away from friends and family.


Fallon's family posing in their Idaho Vandals gear. Christmas 2009.

Christmas has always been a special time of year for my family and me.  In the earliest years of my life, it was a huge celebration.  Food, gifts, cousins, carols, trees, church, special drinks, sleigh rides, snow…each year it was eagerly anticipated and each year it was spent split between my two family trees.  Every Christmas Eve with my Dad’s family–20 grandchildren sharing the floor with our gifts–and every Christmas Day with my Mom’s family, sharing special traditions and a delicious Christmas brunch.

The year I turned 15, my family moved to northern Idaho, away from the familiar bustle of an extended family holiday.  The quieter, smaller family Christmas quickly began to hold a similarly special place in my heart.  We’d start the morning with the five of us opening gifts, then have Christmas brunch.  Often the afternoon would include a visit to one of our two family connections in the area for dinner or just drinks and snacks…then we would return home to relax, eat leftovers, and enjoy one another’s company again.

Stockings hanging over Fallon's family fireplace

And of course–I can’t forget that no matter where we were, there would most definitely be 24 hours of A Christmas Story on TBS.  Sometimes I feel like Christmas is simply not Christmas without watching Ralphie pine for a Red Rider BB Gun at least three separate times.

Now that I’m older, I still look forward to Christmas with almost the same amount of anticipation as I did as a kid.  My focus is more on the company and traditions and less on the receiving of gifts, but the excitement is there all the same.  The first time I spent Christmas away from home was in 2008 when I was teaching English in South Korea, and it stands out most in my mind for one main reason: it was not as terrible as I thought it would be.

A sad excuse for a Christmas tree in December 2008.



I’d been pretty pessimistic about Christmas in Korea; not only would I be spending the beautiful holiday away from my family, but I was spending it in a country where I felt the meaning of Christmas was completely lost.  Christianity in Korea is a fairly new thing in the scheme of it all, and it seemed to me like the Koreans had really only caught onto the consumerist part of the biggest holiday of the Christian religion.  Their shopping centers were decorated, albeit oddly at times, and there were candy canes and snowflakes to be seen in every coffee shop; but there was something missing.

I don’t consider myself religious any longer, but I truly love the beautiful spirit Christmas creates back home.  People are nicer, just because they can be; they smile, they give, they love, and you know what–I know everyone is complaining about how Christmas has become about materialism, and I agree to a certain extent, but I still don’t think it’s the biggest part of it all.  I see people feeling the Christmas spirit, strangers, friends and family alike.  That’s what I love about the holidays.

Korea did not have that.  Compare hundreds of years of Christianity instilling the Christmas spirit into descendants of Western culture to the last sixty or seventy years the Koreans have had…  It’s not their fault, but it is what it is.

Despite it all though, I had a wonderful, if different, Christmas in 2008.  Here are the tips I learned to help make it special.

1. Reach out to your fellow expats.  Most of you won’t have family around…make a new family together!  Don’t spend your holiday on your own.  It is surely the best way to ensure that you will have a miserable day.

2. Share your traditions.  On that Christmas Eve back in 2008, my then-boyfriend read a beautiful Christmas story his father read every year to his family on Christmas.  What started out seeming a little awkward to some of the group ended up being one of the best parts of a great night.  The memory of ten or so of us sitting in a circle, listening to the Littlest Angel, is one that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.  Then, the next morning, my boyfriend and I watched A Christmas Story.  More than once, because that’s how it has to be on Christmas (see above).

3. Go to church.  If you are into that kind of thing, anyhow.  I was raised Catholic and don’t consider myself so anymore; regardless, there is nothing more holy and beautiful to me than Midnight Mass.  The lovely, solemn but joyful hymns and the warm dark of the church, the candles and smells…it’s very soothing, and very familiar.

4. Listen to Christmas music.  Come on, you know you want to.  Nothing gets you in the mood for the holidays like some Christmas tunes!

5. Eat some familiar Christmas foods.  I think most people have some foods or beverages that are mainly reserved for the Christmas season; mine are sugar cookies and homemade Chex Mix, among other things.  It’s just not Christmas without those goodies.

6. Skype it up.  I opened Christmas gifts with my family via Skype.  It wasn’t as good as being with them, but seeing their faces as they opened my gifts, and vice versa, was the next best thing.

7. Decorate.  If you are not just backpacking through and have a semi-permanent place, decorate for the season.  A small tree and some tinsel, maybe some mistletoe…brighten up your surroundings and you’ll feel more festive in no time.

8. Make a new tradition.  If this is the first of many Christmases away from family to come…make a new tradition.  Something that will mean Christmas to you every year, something you will look forward to in place of the special time with your family.

A few good friends made all of the difference for Fallon's first Christmas abroad

That’s about it.  If you’re spending Christmas somewhere new for the first time, here’s hoping it’s as wonderful as Christmas at home.  And merry Christmas to the lucky ones spending it at home with their families, as well.

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