Celebrating the Holidays Far From Home

The holiday season is difficult for many. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 38% of people say their stress increases during the holiday season. It’s no wonder: high expectations, the pressures of gift-giving or the interpersonal challenges of large family gatherings could all come up around a holiday. And that’s without adding a new location to the mix. 

On a day when tradition is so highly valued, being away from your family or community can feel isolating. Here are some suggestions for travelers and people living abroad for making your holidays memorable, in a good way. 

Plan Ahead

Celebrating a holiday that doesn’t exist where you are staying? (Thanksgiving, anyone?) Make a plan ahead of time to ensure that the day feels special and not like any old Thursday. You could host a gathering for the new people you have met, including people who have not experienced your holiday before. Novelty, food and drink are all good incentives for them to show up. 

Just keep in mind that planning a meal ahead of time might mean ordering far in advance. Your traditional foods may not be easily accessible in the country where you are staying. You may have to visit multiple specialty stores or comb the internet to order the ingredients that’ll give you a feeling of comfort. 

If you don’t have the ability to host or people to invite, planning ahead is still key. Research the expat community in your area. Very likely, someone is planning a gathering and would love to have you join them. 

Celebrate with a Local Family or Group 

There is something intimate about being invited into someone’s home to share one of their most important days. You can read about local traditions all you like, but celebrating with a family is almost guaranteed to teach you new ones. 

Prepare for culture shock by attending with a completely open mind—no firm ideas on how the holiday should be observed. While it may not feel like the version of the holiday you are used to, remember that it is special. It is a celebration that you would never otherwise experience. 

Share Your Traditions, or Make Up New Ones

Does your family hide a pickle ornament every Christmas? Or watch the Macy’s parade on Thanksgiving mornings? Why not introduce new people to those traditions? Even if you are attending someone else’s gathering, you can choose one traditional food or custom to bring with you and ask others to participate. 

A silver lining of celebrating the holidays away from your family is that you are not bound by their traditions. So if you were never a fan of the traditions you grew up with, make up your own and encourage your new community to participate with you. 

Take Yourself Out

If none of this appeals to you, consider planning an exciting day that has nothing to do with the holiday. Visit a spa, museum or ski slope you’ve always wanted to try, or take advantage of lower travel costs and go sightseeing somewhere new. Just make sure your preferred activity is open on the holiday. 

Filling your day with activity is a good distraction from the holiday blues. More than that, it’s a way of commemorating the day by giving yourself something special and taking care of your mental health.