For many expats, Christmas of 2020 and 2021 were particular difficult times as they were forced to cancel their plans to travel over the holidays and as such, couldn't spend the festive period with their friends and family back home.
This year, it looks like we will be in the all clear to travel as we fancy over the festive period. If you are going home for Christmas, it's likely that you have mixed feeling about it. On one hand it's lovely to be reunited with your loved ones, on the other hand it can feel a little like speed-dating, running around trying to catch up with everyone.
It may have been months, perhaps even more than a year since you last sat foot on the soil of your passport country. You are longing for the taste and smell of your home country, the familiarity of the language, culture, and sights, and you are excited to be catching up with friends and family. However, as the holiday goes on, you know you will find yourself exhausted from all the visits, the catch ups, the foods, the quick coffees which are never quick as well as potentially ferrying your kids around to their friends too. Returning to your expat country, you feel in need of another holiday - this time to relax.
Does this sound familiar?
Tips on on how to enjoy precious time with everyone back home without exhausting yourself.
Realise that though everyone might be longing to see you, you can’t schedule in quality time with everyone. Don’t be afraid to prioritise your closest friends and family. With people on the periphery, you might want to accept having a rota of some kind so that over the course of your time abroad you do see these people, but not every time you are home. It's vital to have peace with not being able to see everyone every time. It's Christmas and time to prioritise whom to relax and enjoy this special time with.
Consider killing two or more birds with one stone in bringing people together for an event or meet for a meal. This will enable you to catch up with more people.
Rather than you spending time taking yourself around to your friends’ places, consider renting a holiday home. This brings you tranquility and if you don’t want to be shopping for food and cooking again and again, you can ask your visitors to bring the food they would have served you, had you gone to their place. Family and friends are happy to spoil you now that you are at home.
If you are keen to explore your own country, ask people along on outings, overnight trips etc.
Make sure you prioritise your children seeing their friends and cousins; they may have an even greater need to be meeting in person than you do your friends. Again, consider them seeing a few for prolonged periods of time to enhance quality time rather than short visits to many.
Schedule in days of doing nothing. Again, if you have rented a holiday home you are better able to do this than if you are staying in other people’s homes.
Some find it tiring to always be talking about their new life abroad, and some friends and family will find it tedious to listen to as it can be difficult to fully engage when they have not visited the places you are talking about and met your new favourite people themselves. Remember, it’s not on you to entertain about your new life; your friends and family will also have had experiences they might want to share with you.
If you find yourself annoyed with over-attentive parents, remember that they probably miss you and just want to spoil you, to make sure you are having a good time. Accept that everyone is excited to see you and want a piece of you. If you find it's too much, limit your stay to a few days, set boundaries for visitors, and go do something on your own: take a mini-break before flying back out again or return to your expat country in time to recuberate a little before returning to work.
When visiting friends at home, one of my children used to say that his goodbyes started when he said hello and that he felt the time with his friends felt like borrowed time. If you feel that the grief of saying goodbye and not knowing when you will see your friends and family back home again is over shadowing the joy, try to focus on being in the present. Also, remember that once the initial grief has settled, you will cherish beautiful memories.
If you find yourself struggling settling into your expat life after a home visit, it's easy to fall into feelings of self-blame, despair and depression. If you do feel the holiday blues, it's time for self-compassion, patience and looking after yourself in terms of eating well, exercising sensibly and clocking as much daylight as possible as well as creating some healthy sleeping patterns. Also, reach out to other people; they might feel the same and company will do you both good. For more, read this post on holiday blues in January.