How to Celebrate Christmas While Living Abroad

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Most expats feel pangs of loneliness at times, but the Christmas holidays abroad 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 living abroad, 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 dish) 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. You can have the feeling of Christmas even when abroad. 

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 favorite memories of my time in S. Korea, thank you Jieung! 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. It makes Christmas abroad easier to have more people around you. 


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 favorite 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.

Time is our most precious resource and my number one tip for being happy while living abroad that surpasses all others is to find a purpose. It especially applies at Christmas time. It could be volunteering at a homeless shelter to serve up a Christmas meal, or volunteering to walk dogs at an animal shelter. 

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 snorkeling 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.

Go for a hike. If you’re new to hiking, check out our guide to get get started. Or do a multi-day hike. We offer some great self-guided hikes that you can do on your own schedule. Or join our popular group hiking tour in Jordan, which is always popular in December and January.

Regardless of the type of hike you do, try this technique while hiking to make you happier. It really works. 


Spending Christmas abroad can be a time to try something different and unconventional. 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 snorkeling in Thailand’s pristine waters has become one of my favorite Christmas’s and certainly one of my most memorable.