How to Celebrate Christmas While Living Abroad

Most expats feel pangs of loneliness at times, but the holidays can be the worst, especially if you’re in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

Christmas tree at Hellbrunn Castle Salzburg

I spent my first Christmas in Thailand crying most of the day. By the second year, I got smarter and realized that while it wouldn’t be the same as Christmas in Canada with my family, it didn’t have to be a complete bust either.  Here’s how:

1.  Have Christmas Dinner with a Local Twist

It may not be possible to have a turkey with all the trimmings so don’t stress trying to recreate a “perfect” Christmas dinner.  No turkey?  A roast chicken makes a lovely substitute.  And why not add some local flair to your Christmas dinner?  In Thailand, we ate pad thai (a popular noodle wish) as a side dish.  No Christmas tree?  Palm trees look lovely when decorated.  No snow?  Build a Sand Man as pictured above. If you’re in Germany, I highly recommend drinking mulled wine with Nuremberg’s famous Lebkuchen for dessert!  You get the idea.

2.  Invite New People to Your Christmas Dinner

Besides your usual circle of friends, extend your invitation to other people you don’t know very well, or perhaps at all.  Spending Christmas alone sucks and now is the perfect time to show your Christmas spirit with an invitation that will be appreciated, since Christmas is lonely for many expats.  You can ask your friends to invite other expats that they know. Better yet, post an invitation on a local discussion forum so that interested people can contact you.  For your generosity, you may just make some new friends.  To reduce the work and expense, you could arrange a potluck, where everyone brings a dish.

3.  Invite Locals to Your Christmas Dinner

If you’ve ever been invited to a local holiday that you don’t have back at home, you will know how much locals will appreciate your invitation.  I will never forget when I was living in S. Korea for only a few weeks. I was  very lonely and lost when Chinese New Year came around.  A colleague who I didn’t know very well invited me to spend Chinese New Year with her parents and husband.  Despite the language barrier, it was a memorable night.  I learned to play a traditional Korean game,  got to see what Chinese New Year was all about, saw the inside of a Korean home, ate new but delicious food and deepened my friendship with my colleague who became a close friend.  Twelve years later, it’s still one of my favourite memories of my time in S. Korea, thank you Jieung!  So just because someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate it.  It’s also a nice way to say thank you to a local friend/s who have probably helped you out on more than one occasion.

4. Buy a Gift for Yourself

It is Christmas after all!  I am a voracious reader, so I always buy a special book for myself in advance and save it for Christmas day.  You can check out my favourite animal books for some inspiration. It’s my way of saying “Merry Christmas” to myself, and I thoroughly enjoy this present to myself. I also love to do puzzles but find that I rarely have the time to spend hours trying to put the pieces together. Over the holidays, I often give myself the gift of time to do a puzzle. I bought this year’s puzzle in October.

I also love to do puzzles but find that I rarely have the time to spend hours trying to put the pieces together. Over the holidays, I give myself the gift of time to do a puzzle. I get so excited about it that I bought this year’s puzzle in October.

Time is our most precious resource and I have one tip for being happy while living abroad that surpasses all others in my opinion. It especially applies at Christmas time.

5.  Do Something Fun

My second year living in Thailand, a few friends and I decided we needed to get out of Bangkok for a change of scenery. Naturally, we headed for the beach!  I spent Christmas day snorkelling and getting a massage on the beach.  On Boxing Day I started my scuba diving certification.  Sometimes doing something new or taking a local getaway is the best cure for the holiday blues.

5 ways expats can celebrate Christmas abroad

Celebrating Christmas while living abroad will likely not be like celebrating Christmas at home, but it can be special and memorable in its way.  Looking back at my Christmas’s  snorkelling in Thailand’s pristine waters has become one of my favourite Christmas’s and certainly one of my most memorable.

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14 thoughts on “How to Celebrate Christmas While Living Abroad”

  1. Today I put on Christmas music and felt sad, there are so sleigh bells or white christmas in Ecuador. So I changed the song to Feliz Navidad and felt a bit better.

  2. #5 is my favorite! snorkeling on christmas would be awesome- and just a great memory. I'd actually probably like it more than eating food- ha- that i'd want to do more things like that even when we were at home!

  3. We just had the conversation about going away for Christmas next year…sounds glamorous until you're really living it, then I fear I'd experience a lot of the same longing for tradition and familiarity. I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas Laurel, no matter where you spend it!

  4. Great advice.
    We're having Christmas lunch for about 10 people at our place (even though we've only got six chairs.) It's going to be an Australian-Vietnamese-Indian-Japanese-English-Singaporean affair. Snorkeling in Thailand might be an option for next year, though

  5. @Ayngelina – Christmas music makes me nostalgic too, but you can't help but feel happy with Feliz Navidad
    @Jade – I'm with you, you never remember the food years later, you remember the experiences
    @Tracy – I still think having a traditional Christmas with family is my preference, but when it's not possible, sometimes it's good to do something totally different. Merry Christmas to you as well!
    @NVR Guys – AND easy to make!
    @eatlaughlove – it sounds like you'll be having a very memorable Christmas, I can't wait to hear about it!
    @Norbert – I'm sure you'll enjoy being at home this Christmas for a change 🙂

  6. Hey Laurel – the last christmas I spent in B.A. and it was the first one so far away from my family. I joined a XMas Dinner organized through Couchsurfing. The mixed group with locals, expats and travelers made this xmas to one of my best even though my family was still missing in a way.
    The only thing I missed was to buy myseld a nice gift 😉

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