The Truth About: Christmas as an expat

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The truth about Christmas as an expat

There are always going to be days as an expat that are more difficult than others. It goes without saying that we miss things; family, friends, traditions, shops, chocolate…

I’ve written before about the differences between the things that I expected to miss as an expat, and the things that I actually do. Less stuff; more people.

But, there are definitely times of the year that are harder. Birthdays, holidays. Christmas.

I never really thought about the traditions that I associated with ‘my’ Christmas, they just happened, habits developed over years. My childhood and teenage Christmases becoming my young adult (single, and not) Christmases. They involved family, food and Christmas TV. Simple, but comfortingly similar each year.

Once you have your own family, you develop your own traditions; creating magic and memories for, and with, your partner and your children. These traditions become engrained and expected.

As an expat, you are transplanted in to a different culture. And while, for us, the US and the UK share many similarities, they are not the same.

Christmas cake, mince pies, the Eastenders Christmas Special. Things you take for granted are no longer (easily) available. You have to recreate, make and make do.

And, sometimes, that sucks.

Yes, I can make mince pies. Yes, I can make a Christmas cake (should I magically gain a week somewhere between now and Christmas).

But wouldn’t it be so much easier to just go to Marks and Spencer?

Yes, the internet is a wonderful thing, and I can order almost everything.

But, when you own a European Wii, you still have to sort out ordering/buying the new Skylanders game in the UK and get it to the US.

Yes, I just need to be a bit more organised and post Christmas cards a couple of weeks earlier than I normally would.

But, this year… I refer back to the above point about magically gaining a week.

Yes, Christmas isn’t about the stuff, it’s about the people, and we’re very lucky that my mother is joining us for Christmas again this year.

But, it would be so lovely to have Christmas drinks with the friends (that we miss, very much) from home.

None of these things are really vital. The truly important thing is sharing a magical Christmas with my husband and children. I know that.

But, as Christmas creeps ever closer, and I feel more and more disorganised, I find myself missing things that I had largely accepted. I find myself wishing for the ease of a Christmas where I know where to find everything that I might want or need. I find myself frustrated at the extra work required to create ‘our’ Christmas.

I understand that this is a temporary feeling, brought on in part by the (frankly ridiculous and unnecessary) need to have a perfect Christmas. I also understand that there are times, as an expat, where things just seem harder than they should be, harder than they need to be, and you just miss everything!

Really, a perfect Christmas is one where I wake up with my family around me.

All the other stuff is a bonus.

And then the fun began...
Seychelles Mama

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49 thoughts on “The Truth About: Christmas as an expat”

  1. It is hard. When I lived in the UK, as a child, we would have big, family Christmases where everyone came to us for socialising and snacky bits after everyone had had their dinners at home. It was wonderful.
    Now, in France, it’s so quiet and miserable, I miss the UK so much.

    1. I think any kind of change for big celebrations like Christmas are really hard, especially when there is so much emotion and and so many family traditions associated with a holiday. Huge hugs lovely, Christmas can be a really tough time of the year xx

  2. Yup, I hear ya. I’ve worked really hard at making Christmas special for my children and combining the good bits from USA and from UK in order to create our own family traditions at Christmas time. Because it can’t be the same as in America and I don’t want it to only be British. I think it gets easier as time goes on, but yes, it is one of the more challenging times as an expat! Have a lovely Christmas with your mother. I haven’t spent Christmas with my mother in ten years. I look forward to the time when we can afford to go back to America at Christmas – whenever that will be.

    1. We have definitely absorbed US elements to our day now, this being our third US Christmas, but there are days when I wish it were easier to maintain the UK elements! Spending it with my mother is the important thing at the end of the day, all the rest is just a nice to have. I need to remember that. Hope you have a lovely Christmas too x

  3. Must be really hard, when most people are able to see the friends and family for the Christmas season.

    I’m not an expat, but even I’m now disappointed by Christmas. The OH doesn’t care about it, which means he makes no effort to involve the rest of his family (I only have my brother so he goes wherever he gets invited), and works for a bit morning and afternoon. Despite him having a huge family all living within a mile and a half, we don’t have a big family Christmas and I feel really sad about that. Last year it was us over to his parents at the farm, plus my brother and OH’s aunt. It was nice, but it woudl be better to have all the cousins around for N to play with too. This year I suggested everyone coming here, but it seems not, and now it’ll just be the 3 of us for Christmas and my brother. So like any other day because for most of it, it’ll just be N and myself. Boring.

    I think a lot of the problem with Christmas is the expectation and want for tradition, and that doesn’t often happen the way we wish for. I know ours isn’t anything like I expected it would be , marrying into a big family compared with our old family Christmasses which were mostly just me, my mum and brother.

    1. I think you’re absolutely right, we expect too much from Christmas. I’ve been stumped a couple of times recently when asked what our ‘traditions’ are; it was always just me, my mum and my sister and our traditions were very simple: food, fizz and the Christmas specials. Quiet, but perfect for us. It’s silly things like mince pies that I’m missing at the moment. I’m sorry that Christmas isn’t what going to be what you hoped for, for you and N, it’s tough when you know it could be different x

  4. Oh hon Xmas brings out the whole spectrum of feelings doesn’t it. Knowing you, I know you will pull it out of the bag for the kids and have a fabulous time over the holidays. Doesn’t stop you feeling a little sad about the things you’re missing out on though. Hugs lovely xxx

    1. Thanks ReneĆ©. I know that it’s all silly things that I’m missing at the moment, but there is so much pressure for the ‘perfect’ Christmas isn’t there, ridiculous really!

  5. Interesting to read about your feelings about Christmas in America and some expat American bloggers in the UK feeling weird about trying to recreate Thanksgiving here. I think that one of the main reasons that I wouldn’t want to move to another country is definitely the Times you miss friends and family. I’m sure you will have a fab time with your kids, husband and mum though. I’ve been feeling weird about Christmas too this year as we have the husband’s daughter on the day meaning we are duty bound to spend the day with his family which is fine but I think my mother in law feels put upon – she is kind of a martyr and won’t let anyone help out but she has bad arthritis now and hasn’t had us over on a Sunday for a meal pretty much all year. Could be stressful! Thanks for linking to #thetruthabout Xx

    1. That’s the thing with Christmas isn’t it, it often ends up being stressful because of expectation, pressure, scale – we ask too much of ourselves and each other. I’ve been surprised by the things I’m missing this year, and they are all silly things, I was less aware last year…. Maybe it’s just the rather busy six months we’ve had catching up with me!

  6. Fiona @ Free Range Chick

    “Once you have your own family, you develop your own traditions; creating magic and memories for, and with, your partner and your children. These traditions become engrained and expected.”

    I love this and couldn’t agree more. This is what I’ve been wanting to start doing since last year, as my elder son was two and old enough to start getting involved with the meaning of Christmas in our home. We’re under my in-laws’ roof this year (hopefully we’ll have our own place next year).

    Which leads me onto my thoughts about being an expat. We’re thinking about moving to East Anglia, a long way from London, but not as far away as abroad. Although I know it is for the best, I do have moments of unease when I think about how far away we would be from old friends and the area we (my husband and I) both grew up in. But considering your experience in the US (so many miles away from M&S!), it does put it into context for me. There must be so many lovely things about living there that you just wouldn’t have over here. But it is so natural to miss the things you no longer have access to.

    I hope you have a magical Christmas either way. Take care x

    1. Thanks Fiona. We love it here and there are many things that we have here that we wouldn’t in the UK. And, after two years I am quite settled. I think it’s the expectations of Christmas that make you miss things you wouldn’t normally, as you try to recreate something. And, I think there are probably some holidays where you can’t just embrace the new, you have to also hold on to the old x I hope you have a wonderful Christmas too xx

  7. I never really thought before that Christmas traditions would be different in the USA and the UK although I could imagine that being away from friends and family would feel much harder at this time of year. I do agree with your final point that a perfect Christmas is one with your family around and everything else is a bonus but can also understand how frustrating it must be at times when you can’t just recreate everything from your own traditions as easily as you would like and instead are having to find new traditions that combine the two cultures x

    1. I think everyone has there own traditions and it’s not so much that the UK and US are that different, they’re just not the same, if that makes sense. It’s silly things that are frustrating me this year, if I’m honest, and at the end of the day they’re not really important x

  8. Potty Mouthed Mummy

    Oh lovely, never really thought about it like that before. Must be tough. But as you say, waking up with family is the best bit xx

  9. I’m sorry you’re missing so many things this time of year. We used to live 12 hours from my family and the holidays and birthdays were hard. I’m glad your mom is coming to visit but I know what you mean about missing friends. There are so many people that we’d like to see but are just too far away. I think the holidays makes us miss people even more!

    1. I think they do, the holidays are a time for family and friends, and it never feels quite right when there are people missing x

  10. Michelle Reeves (@bodfortea)

    Sara this brought back memories of our Christmasses in China and missing our families so much. You’re right that having your friends and family around you is THE most important thing but I did miss M&S mince pies until they opened up a store in Shanghai – you can imagine the excitement THAT day! x

    1. Oh my goodness, that must have been an amazing day ;) It is silly to miss things like that, but they make you feel at home and sometimes you just need a taste the familiar!

  11. Grace & Lucas say – We don’t have a lot to say about this coz we’re only kids but we do send you loadsa, loadsa, HHHHUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!…… and some Haribo to cheer you up xxxxx #sharewithme

  12. Wicked World of Lucas

    Oh hun, I’m sorry you’re feeling a stressed and generally fed up. So pleased your mum is coming over though. It’s tough about your friends too. Could you maybe have a Skype party one night. Bottle of wine on either side of the Atlantic, turn the TV off and just sit there and natter with you friends. I know it’s not the same but me and my girlies do something like this on boxing night as although we all live in the same town, we tend to scatter over Xmas and its become a sort of tradition. Hugs to you and your lovely family xx #sharewithme

  13. It must be so hard. I know its not the same but my family all live down south and we are up here and I miss them terribly. I also have a sister and nephews in Australia and I know she finds it hard too. Thank goodness for Facebook and Skype x x x

  14. So so true – this post resonated with me. Enjoy having your mum over is she bringing things for you? My sister is joining us for Christmas this year and we can’t wait for her to come – the kids are so excited. I must get round to making mincemeat and Christmas pudding in the next few days or we will have to do without mince pies and pudding.

    1. I suspect that we will be doing without mince pies this year :) My mum asked if I wanted anything, but for the first time I actually couldn’t think of anything, but I was just in the UK in November :)

  15. it must be very hard at family times of year to miss things from home, I guess its times like this that new traditions are made, I’m sure you’ll have a fab time though, all be it without a few favourite things. #sharewithme

  16. Lovely post Hun. It’s so true that people of course make Christmas! I feel like perhaps when we can’t have the people we want around us that’s what makes us feel like we need or miss the other things even more. Honestly in the UK I didn’t drink mulled wine, but I feel like we ‘have’ to have it here at Christmas now!! I also crave mince pies like nothing else and again could take it or leave it in the UK!!
    Lovely that you’ll have your mum with you for Christmas! Xx

    1. I think that’s right, the silly things like mince pies suddenly take on more importance when you can’t have them. Thanks for hosting lovely, have an amazing Christmas xx

  17. I’ve written about the same thing this week! It can be hard to not have friends and extended family around, and the responsibility of putting everything together come solely on you. I think festivals are really about spending time with family, so you’ve got a point about Christmas being expected to be perfect.

  18. Oh hunny I could sit here and write a novel about this. I feel your pain you know I do being an expat myself I find Christmas the hardest. And this year I don’t get to have my family or much of Mr P family around either so it’s going to be a tough one for me emotionally but you are so right it’s about waking up with your own little family around you that’s magical. But it’s human nature to miss all the things we are used to at such an amazing time of year. Too funny I still can’t wrap my head around mince pies (not made of mince) and christmas cake! (Yuck) lol hahaha We don’t realize until they are not there how very different it is. Happy Holidays! Thanks for lining up to Share With Me #sharewithme

    1. I don’t like Christmas cake either, but my husband loves it! But yes, it’s all about our little families and seeing our children happy x

  19. Last Christmas was my first as an expat and I could really resonate with those feelings. I cook a lot of family recipes and music from my childhood when I’m feeling nostalgic and it helps a lot. It’s nice to pass the traditions onto my new family. Hugs. #MyExpatFamily

    1. It is all about traditions isn’t it? They are important, although it is also nice to develop new ones with your own little family xx

  20. We’ve spent quite a few Christmas away from friends and family. The first one (in the seemingly idyllic location of the Canadian rockies) was the worst. My mum sent me a jar of mincemeat at great expense because we couldn’t buy it (or mince pies) and someone bought me Michael Buble’s album as a present and I welled up every time I heard”Home” playing! Cyprus was much better, I think we even felt a little smug sitting in the sunshine drinking champagne at lunchtime!

    1. Cyprus, I could probably cope with that! It’s funny how things that you could have happily gone without when you were at home suddenly seem so important when you can’t get them. I guess they are tied so strongly to our sense of a ‘traditional’ Christmas x

  21. I’ve had Christmas all over the world for most of my life and never missed things like mince pies till I became a mum and realised I wanted to pass on traditions to my kids. Now I miss mince pies and singing carols and wish my boys liked them too! I hope you manage to find that extra time to create your lovely family Christmas, just don’t get hung up on “perfect”, it’ll be great with your mum there too.

  22. Christmas and birthdays really are a bit miserable as an expat, aren’t they. I remember my first Christmas abroad so well: I was in Japan and they don’t even celebrate it there! I ended up crying in the loo at work, whoops… The next year I flew home, despite the cost.
    Now that we’re in Italy I find it a little easier because I really do like a lot of the Italian Christmas traditions. It isn’t “the same” and every year I struggle with defining our traditions, and what it all means to a family that is trying to combine 4 different cultures. And yes, I miss my friends and family hugely. Some days I completely ignore it all because it’s just too complicated emotionally, which I would never have done at home. After many years as an expat though, I do think it gets easier (but I wouldn’t want a Japanese Christmas again!) x

  23. Gosh huge hugs, I can imagine it’s a time of year where you miss family and friends abroad and there is a pressure for us all to have the most amazing day. Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts x

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