As humans we are programmed to evolve and seek new experiences, but when it comes to Christmas, our mindset prefers for it to be same procedure as last year, the year before, and so on ...
At Christmas, we feel a stronger urge to belong and a more enhanced sense of appreciation of family values; and for those of you who aren’t going home for the festive season and won’t have visitors from home either, you might feel more than just a pang of loneliness and as such, experience a strong fear of missing out.
Below you’ll find some of my own experiences alongside tips on how to enjoy Christmas if you are in your current country without visitors from home.
We have spent more than a handful of Christmas holidays in London; some with family flying in, some on our own. Initially, we stuck to the Danish way of celebrating with the big do on Christmas Eve. On “Little Christmas Eve” (23rd December), we would always rummage around London to feel the bustle of Christmas shoppers, take delight in the wonderful lights, soak up the atmosphere, and have a meal in one of the many lovely restaurants in The West End. A most magical tradition.
During the day on Christmas Eve, we would decorate the tree, watch Disney Christmas cartoons, go for a long walk in Richmond Park, and have tea with home baked cookies in the afternoon before the traditional big meal. In the evening followed lightening the tree, singing Christmas carols, and dancing around the tree before opening the long awaited presents. Christmas and Boxing Day would be somewhat flat as we didn't have any celebrations to attend and there was great scope for feeling lonely and sorry for ourselves.
Gradually, we mixed our own traditions with English: The duck or roasted pork would be replaced by stuffed turkey. I still dreadfully recall the first time I had ordered a turkey form the butcher’s … it came with feathers as well as feet, and we had to resolve to chopping its feet off with our hedge trimmer. The meal was a bit of a challenge: We had run out of brown sauce colouring and as such, had to make use of the children’s food colourings for cookies – not a pretty sight. And at the time, none of us truly appreciated the traditional English Christmas cake or minced pies. Nonetheless a Christmas Eve that we all remember fondly.
One year, we skipped Little Christmas Eve and postponed this tradition to Christmas Eve to celebrate the English way with opening presents Christmas morning. Much to our amazement and disappointment, London closed at 6pm sharp on Christmas Eve, and it was almost impossible to find a decent meal. The children were little and only slightly upset that we weren’t celebrating on Christmas Eve. After tugging them in, I remember sitting quietly in our lounge feeling somewhat blue knowing that everyone at home would be celebrating with their loved ones. As I recall it, we felt a tad sorry for ourselves and went to bed early.
However, Christmas Day was magical: the children had all day to play with their toys (getting them on Christmas Eve always meant an absolutely painful wait; and when the presents were finally unwrapped, it would be past midnight and bedtime … not ideal for children at all) and we experienced a greater sense of calmness around preparing the meal.
At other times, we experimented with Christmas pub lunches and attending sales on Boxing Day as well as inviting local people over. We also made a point of going ice skating at The Natural History Museum or Hampton Court Palace as well as attending the light shows at Kew Gardens.
Gradually, we came to find a balance between our own traditions and the English. And now being back in Denmark, we still enforce some of our English heritage to our Christmas celebrations.
Tips for celebrating Christmas on your own
Be mindful of wanting to have a good time. It’s vital to make a conscious decision of making the most of it. Obviously, this goes for many areas of (expat) life, but for Christmas in particular, it’s tempting to wallow in self pity.
Pay attention to how bad habits and tendencies like over eating or over drinking may kick in if you find yourself particularly lonely. Allow yourself some special treats, but be mindful of having limits. Use activities to keep yourself preoccupied not to go down emotionally difficult routes.
Be prepared with activities such as board games, books, cooking, watching favorite TV shows, ideas for walks etc.
Also be mindful of what Christmas means to you. This in an opportunity to define your own celebration: Is Christmas about making others happy? About children being excited? Having some much needed downtime? Keeping up traditions? Trying out different foods? Consider what you want from this special time.
Don't put it all in one basket: Christmas Day. Spread the joy and celebrations throughout the month.
Even if you don't feel like it, accept the invites you have throughout the month. You may befriend lovely people to see in the future and create great memories.
View Christmas as an experience; broaden your horizon and implement some of the local traditions: Christmas services, carol singing, Christmas markets, activities at the Zoo, theatre plays, concerts, take part in the celebrations at your child's school or kindergarten, visit Tivoli Gardens, go on a historical walk, put on a traditional Danish "julefrokost" etc. Perhaps, like us, you will find that they enrich your own traditions.
However, be mindful not to blow all your energy on activities during the month - save some for Christmas itself!
Volunteer to give less fortunate a special Christmas. Shelters for the homeless often look for volunteers to help with the Christmas meal that they put on.
Invite local friends and neighbours over for a traditional Christmas meal from your own county. They will appreciate your hospitality and the experience. Perhaps, in return, they will invite you for “æbleskiver and gløgg” or a traditional “julefrokost” next year.
Extend your Christmas sprit to foreigners. Many expats are sat alone and feel lonely and vulnerable this time a year so putting an invitation on the local Facebook group or inviting your expats friends to invite their friends for a pot luck Christmas meal will enhance everyone’s experience. Again, you may make new friends.
Depending on your line of work and private situation, you might also volunteer to cover the Christmas shifts at work allowing your colleagues to be at home with their family. That way, you might feel less lonely compared to sitting on your own and it will allow you to take holiday at a time which suits your needs better. No doubt, your colleagues will be grateful.
Set up a video call with your loved ones at home; perhaps, there’s a special part of their day you would want to feel part of.
Last, but perhaps most important, remember Christmas is just a few days of your life. Being on your own over the holidays doesn’t mean you will always be or feel lonely. There will be other Christmas holidays for you to be with your loved ones.
Whatever you do, try to enjoy the festive season.