Homesick at the Holidays: an expat guide to surviving the holiday season far from home

We’re less than a week into December but holiday season is in full swing here in England. Lights are going up, Christmas music is playing and people all over the country are preparing for this cheerful time. The holidays are about being together with family and loved ones, celebrating traditions, eating delicious food and of course, the exchange of gifts, be they small or large.

But Christmas time, as wonderful as it is, is a lot harder when you’re an expat and live thousands of miles from your family. “I’ll be home for Christmas” is on the do not play list here at the Giordano house. But, as I entered my second Christmas season in England and far from my family in the states, I started to think about the good things I have here and the things that make the season so special anyway. I’m sharing with you a few of the things I’ve found that help me enjoy the season to the fullest when I miss my family the most.

Embrace the culture of your new home

Whether that be adopting traditional decor, trying holiday foods, learning new carols or some other way of celebrating, this is key to making your new home feel like home. I did all of the above last year and I’m finding that this year it’s exciting to me to have things to look forward to. For example, I have found a love for mince pies and mulled wine, who knew?! I’ve learned to make fresh wreaths each year and have been informed that, in true British tradition, you use dried fruits and berries to decorate your wreath, not sparkly baubles like in America. This year’s wreath is a beaut if I don’t say so myself.

Enjoy Christmas Shopping

It’s different when you live so far from your family. I don’t get to purchase as many things for my nieces and nephews, sisters, parents, grandparents, etc. as I would if I was in the same town. I think we forget, or put off, mailing things as it’s a lot more difficult than just popping over and saying here, I got you this. So, at Christmas time I really like to go all out. Since we have to mail the presents so early (somewhere around 10 December), to ensure they get to the states in time for Christmas Day, I have been shopping for the family since well… September. I am really enjoying sending gifts that are different than anything they can get in the states. Whether it’s just Christmas sweaters (because they aren’t a thing there like they are here), or trinkets from our travels, I really like to send things back that are unique. Granted, that’s hard to do for the little ones, but a lot of fun for my sisters.

Dive into making presents

This might not apply to everyone as I know not everyone is a crafting type person. But MOST people have a talent of some sort for creation. It might not be quilting, or embroidery, but it could be wood working, lamp making, painting, writing, etc. No matter what it is you create, that gift is going to be even more special to the recipient. I’ve made several of this year’s gifts and during the hours I spend creating them, I think about the recipient. It makes me feel close to them, even if they are oceans away.

Find you tribe and love them hard

This is imperative. For us we’re blessed with both expat friends and British friends and while we’re often “adopted” by our British friends, it’s the expat ones who truly understand. As I’ve talked about on my Instagram before, my core group of expat ladies are all around my age and are from all over the country. But we all have one huge thing in common, we all left our careers, friends and family to follow our husbands overseas. It’s these ladies that I turn to when I’m homesick and it’s them and their spouses that have become our family here. We had a huge friendsgiving with joy and laughter than made me forget, even if it was momentarily, that I wasn’t going to be with my own family this year. Those who can understand you, love you, and care for you, are the most important thing to have overseas. They will be your support network, your safety net, and ultimately, a family you choose for yourself.

Start New Traditions

Like I said, this is the beginning of our second holiday season here in England and I’m already seeing patterns emerge. Zoe comes up from Spain each year and the three of us are a tiny family on Christmas day. We’ve begun to plan epic Boxing Day to New Years Day road trips all over Europe and we’ve decided lasagna and garlic bread are our perfect Christmas Day feast. There will be more Christmas caroling at Tim’s base this year, a carol mass on Christmas Eve and all the mince pies I can eat. It’s these little things that make the season brighter and I know I’ll look back on these English traditions fondly when I’m back in the states.

Do you have your own ways of coping for the holidays as an expat? I’d love to hear them. Share them here in the comments.

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