Spending the Holidays Away from Home

Dear Esther,

This year, I will be spending the holidays with this good friend of mine and her family, like I did last year.

This year, I will be spending the holidays with this good friend of mine and her family, like I did last year.

With the holidays approaching, it’s normal to have some mixed feelings if you’re going to be abroad and far away from the ones you love. This may be the first time you are away from family for an important holiday and I imagine you’re feeling blue about that.

The reality is that most of us living abroad don’t choose to miss holidays because that’s what we want in our hearts; rather it’s the result of circumstances, distance, and/or finances. While homesickness can hit at any time, I feel that Christmas can be especially hard to miss. I suppose it’s because the Christmas season is so long—encompassing many different days that hold memories and long-standing traditions for us.

I’m personally someone who has always been a sucker for Christmas music, decorations, and spirit in general. Thus, it’s often bittersweet to get so excited about the upcoming holiday season, then remember that many of the customs and the people I am looking forward to spending them with will not be a part of my experience this year.

But before I get you too sad, let’s talk about how I deal with it in a way that still allows me to have a very merry Christmas here in Spain! As with so many challenges you’ll meet during your time abroad, I find that the holidays is a time that really tests your ability to balance two worlds.


Holding on to where YOU come from:

1.) Find people who are willing to take part in some of your traditions (while hopefully sharing theirs with you too!): I am incredibly lucky to have the kind of boyfriend who is willing to go all-out with Christmas celebrating, despite the fact that he will not be in Spain on December 25. We still decorate a Christmas tree, bake my grandma’s Christmas cookies, watch our favorite holiday movies, cook a big meal together, and open presents on ‘Christmas morning’ (well the Christmas morning we designated for ourselves, one week ahead of time). This allows the little girl in me to have the Christmas of my childhood while also bringing us closer as we share how we celebrate at home, laughing at all of the similarities and differences.

Skyping with family at Christmas will help beat the holiday-away-from-home blues.

Skyping with family at Christmas will help beat the holiday-away-from-home blues.

2.) Send home some presents, letters, etc for your family to open on Christmas (or whatever holiday you exchange presents for): Transcontinental mail, namely packages, gets really expensive so here it’s not about the quantity that you send, but the thought behind it. It also allows you something fun to do over Skype as you still open your presents together, helping bridge that distance you may otherwise feel so heavily on this day. I personally like to include some polvorones and mantecados or other Spanish products so that my parents can share in some of the traditions I am collecting from Spain.



Reveling in the Christmas season HERE:

3.) Enjoy what Spain has to offer all throughout December and the beginning of January: We’ve been sharing about some of the typical aspects of Spanish Christmas here on the blog, why not give those things a try? In addition, take time to wander through your city and take in the festive hustle and bustle. If you’re starting to have negative thoughts about the upcoming holidays, being surrounded by the positive energy you can find all over your city is sure to help! I promise it will make you smile if you’re out-and-about when the Christmas lights happen to come on.

4.) Surround yourself with family*: If you can’t be with your family on Christmas, the next best thing is someone else’s family right!? Consider it another opportunity to further immerse yourself in the Spanish culture (or simply another family’s culture if you find yourself with fellow guiris). I’m very lucky to have made the sweetest of friends who have graciously welcomed me into their homes for every Christmas I have spent here in Spain. The ability to get wrapped up in their traditions, help them prepare meals, and get all dressed up (as all Spaniards seem to do on Nochebuena, aka Christmas Eve) will certainly help distract you from the homesickness that may creep up. And it helps you strengthen those friendships too—win-win!

A few years back, the friend from the " creepy conversation " welcomed us into his family's celebration, too!

A few years back, the friend from the "creepy conversation" welcomed us into his family's celebration, too!

Of course, you may find other ways that better help you get through the holiday season with a smile—please comment and share your ideas if you do!!—but I think these four suggestions will help you manage the balancing act and keep you in a holly jolly mood. I know they sure have for me!



*Family, to me, is a very inclusive term and can encompass everything from what you traditionally think of as a family to a close-knit group of friends to an eclectic gathering of humans, coming together to be the love and support that each of them need from one another. Perhaps you haven’t had the time or opportunity to make close enough Spanish friends to tag along with anyone’s family—that’s okay!! You can find some great meet-up resources such as Couchsurfing or other Facebook groups that will connect you with others who are looking to share the holidays too!