Happy Expat Christmas!

18 December 2017

For many expats celebrating Christmas, this is a strange time of year. Spending the holidays alone in unfamiliar surroundings can be a very different experience. But it can also be an excellent opportunity to learn more about your new home country’s culture.

Going home for Christmas?

The Christmas break is often an opportunity to go home to see family and friends. Most corporate relocation packages give expats opportunities to return home – but the main problem is that everyone has the same idea. Air fares are often very expensive and get booked up early.

Even those who find a ticket home may find that Christmas as a returning expat is not what they expected. Often it is a whirlwind of activity: trying to see as many friends and family as you can in just a few days. Far from the normality expats often desire.

A new kind of Christmas

The alternative is to make the Christmas period either interesting, enjoyable or simply bearable where you are. It is a time of year that polarises emotions. While many families come together to celebrate in the company of loved ones, this accentuates the feelings of loneliness for those who do not have close friends or family to hand.

Building bridges

The most unusual place to celebrate Christmas is in a country that doesn’t recognise it at all.

Such places usually do have an expat community, and Christmas celebrations can be a great way to meet other expats and build friendships that will be valuable long after.

One German expat, Marion Kummerlow, recounts how Christmas in China was a wonderful excuse for a group of European, Australian and US expats to get together and share an almost illicit celebration.

It can also be an opportunity to share the Christmas spirit with locals who have never decorated a Christmas tree. The combination of cultures might even put a fresh twist on the usual Christmas activities: why not serve Pad Thai alongside your traditional Christmas dinner?

Local customs

Traditions vary enormously even in countries that celebrate Christmas, which can be a fascinating experience for expats who decide to stay put in their host country.

Christmas food, for a start, has many surprises in store for first-time visitors. From the German lebkuchen to Puerto Rican egg-nog served in coconut shells. One expat talked the delicious roast antelope served up one Christmas in Namibia.

Apart from food, expats may find that Christmas is a great opportunity to get out and see the traditions unique to your new host country. You will probably find others who have been there before you who may have advice on the places to go and the things to see.

Enjoy your holiday…

Christmas can be a challenging time for expats, but it is also an opportunity. However you choose to spend the Christmas period, we hope you enjoy it and send you season’s greetings from all at FIDI!

Pictures by Denise Johnson, Michal Pechardo and Thomas Kelley

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