Feeling more ho-hum than ho-ho-ho this season?

Is it just me or is December in the US really overwhelming and somewhat even hypocritical at the same time? Any tips to survive Christmas in the US?

This question was posted in an online group I belong to. Later that day, in another online group, someone posted that they just weren’t getting into the holiday spirit. And being in the southern hemisphere, where there’s sun instead of snow and Santa wears shorts and sandals, wasn’t helping.

The timing of these posts was impeccable; I was was feeling the exact same way.

I’m grateful that these two people had the guts to put their feelings out there. It’s not always easy to admit that your holiday isn’t shaping up to be what you were hoping for. But there’s no reason to suffer in silence.

I love Christmas, and usually look forward to all of the rituals and celebrations. But this year? Not so much. Christmas Eve is four days away and we don’t have a tree, there are no carols playing on the iPod, we haven’t watched any Christmas movies, and there are no cards in the mail with our return address on them.

Basically, it seems like any other month.

I was feeling pretty down about this, and even started wondering if something was wrong with me because I’m feeling so blah about the holiday season this year. And then I read the posts mentioned above and realized that I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling.

In both online conversations, people shared some great ideas for dealing with the overwhelm that Christmas back in the US can bring, and for finding holiday cheer when you’re abroad.

I thought I’d share some of these tips (with their permission), as well as some of my own. Do add your thoughts, experiences, and tips in the comments!

By the way, this post focuses on Christmas, but much of it is of course relevant to any holiday that’s important to you.

Christmas

Tips for enjoying Christmas in re-entry or as an expat.

The most important thing, in my opinion, is to first ask yourself how you want to feel during the holiday season.

Are you exhausted and want to feel rested?

Lonely and want to feel connected?

Bored and want to feel engaged?

Stressed out and want to feel relaxed?

Homesick and want to feel part of something?

Let how you want to feel inform your Christmas decisions and activities. There are probably many things you feel you should do, have, see, eat, and feel during this time of year. Don’t listen to the shoulds. Shoulds make you feel guilty, which overrules how you really want to feel and just leaves you feeling worse off than where you started. For now, focus only on how you want to feel.

Once you’ve identified how you want to feel over the holidays, set your boundaries, and then stick to them. Decide what you want to do, what you’re willing to do, and what you will not do.

This will obviously differ from person to person, but it could also differ from year to year. One year you might want to travel cross-country to visit your entire family. The next year you might find that staying home for a quiet holiday with your partner or friends may be the best way to recoup some sanity before the new year.

Here are tips from one of the online groups I mentioned.

I think of it as the end of the year blowout. Always have to brace myself. I try not to let it annoy me, and I concentrate on the traditions I enjoy. Choose your fun and ignore the rest! Just because there’s a vat of eggnog doesn’t mean you have to drink it all.” (Regina)

I have mixed feelings on the christmas traditions. My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas (all the gift exchanges, etc) as it’s not really a Japanese custom; so when I wasn’t single, I enjoyed getting to meet my bf’s family and join in on the ‘American’ traditions…same goes for Thanksgiving.

I can see how it can get to be overwhelming though, if I had to do it every year. It’s always interesting to see how my ‘american’ friends are always busy before and during xmas days, and my ‘asian’ friends are busy after xmas. New Year’s Eve/New Year’s is a very traditional Japanese time for our family, so I usually have to skip out on the parties I get invited to.

I suppose it’s a balance. Maybe go off of this idea where each family member need to leave their phone at the entrance, and use that as a “raffle” for a gift later on?” (Lisa)

My solution was to leave the country – LOL! Actually, I did make hand made gifts before I left. Hoping to continue that tradition…it helped me avoid the Black Friday nonsense. It is very nice to be away from all the consumerism back home, I must admit…” (Missy)

Simplify! Don’t be afraid to say no and kindly state your preferences. You don’t have to buy gifts for your neighbor’s uncle’s poodle (or do gifts at all if it stresses you out!). Also in the big cities traffic gets bad, really bad around the holidays, so minimize errands as Christmas gets closer. Last, allow any feelings that come up to just be as they are. The holidays generate joy but also sadness. Just accept yourself exactly as you are.” (Vicki)

Some thoughts from yesterday’s #GlobalLifeChat…

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10 more tips…

  1. If you’re somewhere warm and crave the cold, find an ice skating rink or spray some of that snow-in-a-can on your windows.
  2. Avoid TV commercials, the mall, Pinterest, etc. that idealize Christmas and push a bunch of stuff you probably don’t want or need.
  3. Go abroad for the holidays if you miss living in another country. If an international trip isn’t possible, go somewhere nearby that will recharge you. A change of scenery, even if just for a few days, can do wonders.
  4. If you’re far from the people you love, set up Skype dates and celebrate together. I rarely celebrate Christmas with my family anymore, because I live so far away, so we have a Christmas Day Skype date. We’re online for a couple hours and chat, eat, open Christmas crackers, and take funny photos. It’s not the same as being there but it’s still a great way to share the holiday. (My family and I also once ate Thanksgiving dinner together over Skype.)
  5. Carve out time for yourself to do what will make you feel good. If you know you’re going to be with a lot of people who may not understand how you’re feeling, for example, ensure that you have time to yourself to take a long walk, Skype with friend, read a good book, watch a movie – whatever keeps you sane. This is especially important if you’re an introvert spending the holidays with a lot of people.
  6. If you’re back home after being abroad, incorporate what you most loved about celebrating Christmas abroad. If you’re with family and friends who are unfamiliar with how you celebrated abroad, you may want to start small and realize that it could take a couple years for others to feel as connected to the new tradition.
  7. Give gifts of experience instead of things. A great way to create new memories with family and friends after you’ve been abroad.
  8. Make a point of including traditions that have the most meaning for you.
  9. Incorporate your favorite holiday smells. Bake some cookies, simmer cinnamon sticks, orange peels and cloves on the stove, get a real tree, burn a candle that smells like Christmas. Smelling something associated with good memories is a quick way to boot your mood.
  10. Join Sabrina’s webinar on Sunday! In this free one-hour webinar you’ll explore the various holidays being celebrated this holiday season as well as look at how it is to celebrate the holidays with a global perspective. You’ll leave this webinar with the awareness and know-how on how to integrate this holiday season into your global life! Click here to register.

 

One last thing.

I think it’s important to be ok with having different Christmases. Things change. We change. Our families and friends change. Just because Christmas is different this year doesn’t mean it can’t be just as awesome. Figure out how you want to feel over the holidays and set your boundaries. Don’t suffer in silence. Share your feelings with someone you trust. Work together to find a way to make the holidays enjoyable.

Since chatting about this topic in the online groups, doing some thinking about how I want to feel, and talking with my husband, I’m happy to report that I’m now really looking forward to Christmas. Once I let go of expectations and focused on how I want to feel (relaxed and in the moment with my husband) I identified the holiday activities that will support this feeling.

Thank you, again, to the two people who broached this topic, and for everyone who contributed to the conversation! It was a huge help to me, and I hope for you, too.

Merry Christmas!

What about you? If you celebrate Christmas, what are you doing this year? What are some of your traditions and favorite activities, old and new? What are your tips for celebrating Christmas back at home after being abroad or as an expat far from home?

 

About the Author: Dr. Cate Brubaker

Dr. Cate Brubaker is on a mission to make re-entry after living abroad a positive, transformational force (even when it’s not easy…especially when it’s not easy)! Cate is the author of the Re-Entry Roadmap workbook and the Study Abroad Re-entry Toolkit. Cate has lived in Germany, worked and traveled in 37 countries on four continents, and has helped all kinds of globetrotters successfully navigate global transitions for over 20 years.

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