Celebrating Christmas as an Expat


The lights on our Christmas tree are twinkling, there’s a stack of presents underneath it and the fire’s ready to be lit later. Outside it’s traditional Christmas weather (freezing cold and wet with not a hint of snow – this is England!)

My family is all gathered round…the computer, waiting to talk to me on Skype in China. Welcome to Christmas in the Wilson household 2010!

Last year was my first Christmas away from home and next year I’ll be away too so I’ve been thinking about how I coped with Christmas away from my nearest and dearest last time.

My friends and I went up to Beijing, took over a dorm room, put on our Santa hats, ate the weirdest Christmas lunch ever (smoked salmon on hash browns anyone?!) and generally had as good a time as we could manage. Some were missing home dreadfully, others (me) were enjoying the novelty.

Everyone has their own holiday traditions whether you celebrate Christmas or not and if you’re not at home, this time of year can often be lonely and difficult on the road. Here, to help banish the blues, are my top festive tips to get you rockin’ around the Christmas tree wherever you are.

Before the day:

Make some plans
Whether it’s meeting up with people, finding that restaurant you’ve been meaning to try, checking out the sights of a new city. Don’t sit around and wallow in misery! Knowing where you’re going to be also (hopefully!) means you’ll have an address for people to send care packages to.

Arrange a time to talk to your family
That way you’ll know you’re going to be in contact, and it’s something less to worry about.

Count your blessings
What’s good about where you are and what you’re doing? Remind yourself of the things that make you happy about what you’re doing when you’re feeling low. Maybe you could make them into an advent calendar for yourself (putting in some bad jokes too!) so it’s a slow burn of positivity.

On Christmas

Remember what’s important to you about the holiday.

If it’s religion; find a service or say some prayers. If it’s the food, then eat, drink and be merry. If it’s family, make sure you talk to them. If you can balance familiar with exciting and new, you’re on to a winner. And in that spirit…

Relish the novelty!
When else are you going to be here/there/everywhere again?! What would you not be able to do at home? Sleep in? Watch movies in your pajamas all day? Sunbathe on a beautiful beach? This isn’t a normal Christmas so roll with it!

Share the joy
Mum sent me a couple of stocking fillers, and since no-one else had anything to unwrap, I made stockings as a surprise for everyone. The looks on their faces were absolutely priceless.

Have a good cry if you need to!
I bawled down the webcam after insisting on Mum opening her present from my brothers and me. You know what? I felt much better and then moved on to tip #8

If you can’t be merry, get merry. Mulled wine, Irish coffee, bucks fizz, port… It is Christmas after all!

Have you spent Christmas while traveling as an expat?


About Author

England is a very small country, and Clare's got some big ideas and even bigger plans for her twenties (aka the "Decade of Adventures"). So far she's volunteered in a South African township, got her degree, interrailed around Europe, done a triathlon, taken the Trans-Mongolian Express and lived in China... but that's just the start. Right now she's working in a chocolatier, having UK based shenanigans and planning her biggest adventure yet. Mount Everest and Australia had better watch out! Check out her blog at http://blue-dress-and-backpack.blogspot.com


  1. I remember when I was in the US two years ago over winter break. I knew I wasn’t going to spend Christmas with my family, it had been my plan not to come back home and make the most of my year abroad. I had most of the break figured out, from December 28th until January 14th, but Christmas proved to be difficult at first: I wasn’t sure where I was going to be and I was too afraid to ask my friends. Fortunately, one of my friends invited me to spend Christmas with her family and I had a great time! I had traditional American food, went to a midnight mass, spent three hours on a puzzle on Christmas day and got stuck in the snow while going to see Avatar. And, of course, I skyped with my family 🙂 All in all, it was a Christmas I will never forget!

    • Ace! I’m glad you made the most of it 🙂 Having a Christmas away definitely made me appreciate being home this year.

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