Expats can find the holidays difficult for a variety of reasons, in which case new holiday rituals may be in order. Establishing holiday rituals can help expats overcome holiday stress.
Maybe you’re away from friends and family for the first time in years. Or you may be traveling home for the holidays and staying with family instead of being in your own home. If you’ve had a history of stress or depression around holiday time (which is far more common than you might think) being abroad may exacerbate this. Holiday rituals for expats can help overcome holiday stress.
Whether you’re single or married, have children or not, it may be time to develop some new holiday rituals that fit with your lifestyle as an expat.
One expat couple I saw in counseling rotated postings every 3 years. They made a point of traveling to a new place in their host country every holiday season. They made a decision to spend the money they would have spent on presents on a trip that had meaning for them. Not only did they use the pre-holiday time to plan and prep for their trip, they didn’t agonize over where they would spend the holidays, as they had made their decision in advance.
Another family I worked with used the holiday season to give back to others less fortunate than themselves in their host country. They had 3 children ages 8, 11 and 14 at the time that I knew them. All 5 family members gathered information on where they might best donate their time and resources, then all had a say in which groups to donate to. This was a wonderful opportunity for the kids, who were as excited about this prospect as they were about getting presents!
The holidays can be stressful for single expats abroad, in a way that most couples and families don’t experience. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can be brought on by the holiday season. It’s therefore important to establish new rituals that involve others. One single international teacher told me that she and a group of her friends, both singles and couples planned a trip every year. Another single diplomat said that he and his friends, again both singles and couples, made plans to spend Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve together every year. That way if they were dating someone, their dates could come along and if they weren’t, there were plenty of people around that they felt connected to.
It doesn’t really matter what the new rituals are. It’s preferable that they involve other people, but not necessarily so. Sometimes a solo jaunt can be the perfect thing. It is important that the holidays be marked in a way that feels meaningful, no matter where you happen to be living. And that you honor the spirit of kindness and good will, both towards yourself and others, when making new rituals.