How Living Overseas Helped Me To Truly Appreciate Christmas

christmas trees outside buildings in paris

How Living Overseas Helped Me To Truly Appreciate Christmas

Overseas For The Holidays—Part II

We’re just over a week from Christmas, and for the past few weeks most of the world has been gripped by the seasonal rush… buying gifts, decorating indoors and out, baking cookies, and humming along to the Christmas songs that have taken over store radios.

I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the warm fuzzy feelings that come this time of year. No matter where in the world I am for December, I start to get in the mood—it’s the one time of year I can tolerate a cheese-fest of a movie (and I binge them all month long, much to Harry’s chagrin), Christmas tunes take over my playlist (I have several favorite albums), and I spend far too long browsing sites looking for gifts for friends and family.

This year I’m somewhat housebound—my far-too-large belly handicapping me, making it impossible to trek aimlessly through crowded department stores all over the city. While we’re staying in Paris, nearly all my loved ones will be in the States for the holidays. The upside of that is the ease of ordering gifts online and having them sent straight to their doors.

If, like me, you’ll be far from family for your holidays overseas, make sure to find and appreciate these small silver linings. Yes, it’s a shame not see the smile on their face when you know you’ve found something they’ll love… and you won’t all be gathered around the table together as in Christmases past… but you can Skype or Facetime to say hello “in person,” then enjoy the particular goodies your new home has to offer—my favorite in France is oysters for Christmas, and back in Panama I enjoyed the ron ponche.

In fact, I know many expats who have come to appreciate the holiday season more overseas. It’s so easy to become jaded by the commercialism of it all in the States, and there are so many places overseas where that’s just not the case. I spoke about Christmas in Belize last week and I’ll be telling you a little about Navidad in Panama in next week’s issue—both are places where the amount of money spent is far more conservative than the amount of time spent with friends and family. These are places where giving back to the community or taking part in church traditions mean far more to any local than the gadget on their wish list.

Talking to long-time Latin America expat Lee Harrison about holidays overseas recently, he admitted to being something of a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas Stateside. But he enjoys the whole shebang abroad. “In fact,” Lee shared, “I think it was Christmas abroad that caused me to be critical of Christmas in the States.

“For the first time, in Cuenca, we really stopped to enjoy the season. The lights all over the city (which were purple!), the Christmas concerts, and the local traditions. Of the places we’ve lived, I think Ecuador was the best for Christmas… followed by Colombia.”

A few weeks ago I reminisced about my Thanksgivings spent overseas and my Christmases, likewise, have been far-flung. A few in Ireland, France, some in States not my own, and just as many “back home” but in hotels.

I’ve lovingly come to associate Christmas with a luxurious suite my husband and I splurge on… breakfast in bed served on a tray and arriving on demand… a bottle of champagne precariously balanced in a minifridge… and flipping through the TV looking for whatever Christmas or feel-good kid’s movie might be on in the morning.

This special time has become my very first and own Christmas tradition. Harry and I have set ourselves a bit apart from our respective families by doing this even when we’re “back home,” and I hope to continue it as our family grows in 2020. It’s meant a lot to me over the years to carve out this time and space with him. We get to celebrate by ourselves before we hit the road to see all our various relatives, and I cherish every memory.

While the phrase “home for the holidays” usually evokes images of airports or long drives and dinners back in your hometown surrounded by relatives you see but once or twice a year, I’d like to suggest that we expats appropriate the term…

We all know that home is not necessarily where you grew up… it can be anywhere you make it…

Whether it’s in a hotel room, an oceanfront cabana, an apartment in a city, or a cabin in the mountains… whether you’re there for the week, a few months, or years… whether far from your family or just a drive away… home is wherever you make it…

That’s the beauty and freedom that comes when you fully embrace an expat or even nomadic lifestyle.

Kat Kalashian