4 ways to enjoy the holidays as an American expat?

4 ways to enjoy the holidays as an American expat?

4 ways to enjoy the holidays as an American expat?

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Tips on how to handle the holidays and missing traditions from your home country while living abroad?

Today is my first day back in the office. While I was on vacation I asked some fellow expats how they handle the holiday away from their home country.

I’m currently in Playa del Carmen Mexico just south of Cancun and I hiked all over 8 Mayan ruins and then and went to Minnesota to visit family in the ice and snow. Since they won’t come down to where the weather is just so perfect we have to travel to them.

So we get in the holiday traditions, hang out with family and our kids. Get to experience cold freezing weather. I grew up in Alaska so cold weather with snow makes it really feel like the holidays.

And many expats do the same thing. They go back and visit family during the holidays.

But, of course not everyone does that. And I know I won’t be going to Minnesota every holiday.

So what do other do?

Here are the 5 ways to handle the holidays as an expat:

Fly Home for the Holidays

Like me many fly home for the holidays.

Another expat said “A couple things -Although we don't have much stuff, we keep some American holiday decorations, probably something we wouldn't do in the States. -Prioritize saving money for either flying family to us, or figuring out how to fly to the family. -Use it as an excuse to make new friends and show a "typical American holiday"

Meetup with other Fellow Expats

Throw a holiday party

Jeffry says “Attend Christmas parties with friends, go to Christmas shows at the local theater houses, go to church, etc.”

Make your favorite holiday foods and invite people over

Another expat said “For me, bringing non perishable cooking supplies helps a ton to get through holidays away from home. Specifically, I keep missing thanksgiving, but earlier in the year during a visit to the US, I had the presence of mind to pack a can of pumpkin purée in my checked bag. Got the joy of making a pumpkin pie in Russia on thanksgiving and sharing it with folks who had never had one before. (Russians, Georgians, and Chinese) and what’s more, it tasted right, it didn’t taste like it was made with alternative ingredients!
My food fix was covered with the added bonus of sharing.”
Alec said “My wife and I are American and both former chefs. The Thanksgiving dinner we prepare for our friends has become a pretty big deal over the years.”

Watch your favorite holiday movies and even invite people over

Create a part of your home with your traditional look.

With Netflix & Apple Movies you can easily watch a movie and watch with your immediate family and or other local and expat friends. Tell stories of your favorite holiday stories.

Goto an Expat bar or restaurant

Davis told me that he finds a local expat bar or restaurant and goes there to hang out. They may even play your home country TV stattions and have decorations up.

Embrace The Local Culture

Thomas says “Embrace the local traditions, there are many”.

Robert says “Go to the beach, look out at the ocean, and imagine Santa surfing!”

Ellen says “We had Thanksgiving dinner and invited our friends and neighbors. They had never had a turkey cooked the way we cooked it or stuffing like we made and They were afraid to try our pie de calabaza but they loved it and I have been asked to bring some of my homemade rolls to Christmas dinner. So keep some of what you had, add some new and share what you have with your new friends.”

Monika says “Mix and match...little bit of this, little bit of that. Go with the new, hang with the old. It is entirely up to you.“

Susan says “Invite some friends for a nice dinner on Christmas Day or Boxing Day, the 26th. I used to give a New Year's Day Open House every year when I lived in Mexico. I found someone to cater a nice meal, asked folks to bring dessert and/or a beverage. We gathered around the piano and sang carols in several languages, because it's still Christmas until January 6.”

Brick-Frog says: “I think making up your own traditions is a good solution. Often times when you try to re-create something from home it's not quite the same and it ends up highlighting how very much not-home you are. Or you end up substituting so many things it's just worthless.
Creating something new (or adopting a tradition from your current country) gives you a project and something to focus on. For example making an extremely elaborate cannelloni from Spain, making your own gluhwein from Germany, trying to decorate an elaborate Korean Christmas cake, making Japanese strawberry cake, etc. Not just food, of course, try to join in on local events, if possible, or try out some Christmas crafts online just to stay busy (cutting out paper snowflakes, folding massive snowflakes, printing your own cards).
If there's absolutely nothing local you can find/want to do just make something up. For some reason my husband and I (for 5 years abroad) have had "Grinch Night" where we watch the Grinch and make as many green foods/drinks as we can. This works in every country because the focus is just "green" not something specific. Sounds dumb but we look forward to it more than Christmas.
Probably the best tip is highlight one specific thing you can't live without from home, and combine it with something new. If only just to be distracted.”

One expat said: “I've spent 4 years abroad in Spain, and I think the first year was the most difficult for me. First came Thanksgiving, which of course no one abroad cares about or understands, and I was living with a host family. They knew it was special for me and wanted to do something, but it was a work week and super busy so we ended up just eating kebabs... It was hard to see all of my friends and family back home enjoying.
Thankfully my mom came to visit for Christmas and we were invited for dinner and drinks and it felt more or less like a normal Christmas minus traditional food.
Since then, and now that I'm married with my husband's family here, I participate in all of the local traditions and get excited about it. They celebrate so many more days here, and have a lot of fun traditions, so I find it very enjoyable. The important thing for me was to find people I care about to be with during these times.
This year was my first year attempting a traditional Thanksgiving dinner... I was worried having to make everything from scratch, but it turned out great! That was a nice addition, too.”

Do it yourself

Chrissy & Ashley says “The best way for me was starting my own traditions.”

Decorate part of your home like you did when you were a kid. Even if just a corner of your living room. It helps anchor your passage thru time and makes where ever you are feel more like your current home.

Mark told me that he just skipped the holidays entirely. I turn off all my social media notifications, or delete them entirely for the holiday season. Last thing I want to see are photos of holiday parties/get-togethers on Instagram - reminds me that I'm missing out. That was the only response I got and I haven’t meet many that do that.


You have choices being an expat which is one of my favorite things about being an expat.

You can just fly back home and enjoy it and the fly back to your paradise. Works for me.

Or throw a holiday party with food and traditional movies. Invite your local non-expat friends as well and share your culture. 

Plus you can goto the local expat bar or restaurant and celebrate. I did that once for Amercan Thanksgiving and meet some new friends.

I have also loved learning new traiditions here in Mexico. It's been fun have local friends share their culture. I had a blast the last Day of the Dead here. So much fun.

I hope you all had some great holidays and Happy New Year.

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