This week marks the beginning of what is probably the roughest six weeks out of any expat or long-term traveler’s year: the holidays. If you’re not lucky enough to have a long vacation and the cash for a plane fare, making it through the holiday season can be an emotional challenge. This will be my third Thanksgiving and Christmas in China, and while it gets easier with time, it’s still stressful. But there are a few principles I try to keep in mind to make the holiday season fun — inevitable touch of homesickness notwithstanding!
1. Stay in touch with family & friends. If the inventors of Skype didn’t have December in mind, they should have. VOIP calling is a low-cost lifesaver during this time of year. You can dial into Thanksgiving preparations, Christmas morning presents, and New Year’s resolution-making, almost as if you were there in the flesh. Talking to friends and family is the best way I’ve found to banish the blues.
2. Recreate family traditions. So you’re stuck in China with nary a turkey to be found — might as well say good-bye to Thanksgiving, right? Nope! By getting a bit creative (and subbing in chicken for turkey), my friends and I have had elaborate Thanksgiving dinners for two — soon to be three — years running. With only a toaster oven and a hotplate, I’ve made pies, stuffings and enough chicken to feed 16 people. On Christmas, I’ve eaten the same stuffed eggs and sticky buns as my family back in the States. Sure, the ingredients aren’t quite the same, but it tastes good and is just as comforting as the real thing.
3. Embrace new friends. The holidays are the perfect time to embrace the new friends you’ve made — whether you’ve known them for three months, three days, or three hours! Fellow foreigners are likely experiencing the same feelings of homesickness, while local friends may be curious to know more about Western holidays. Whatever the circumstances, celebrating a holiday together is a surefire way to forge an even deeper relationship.
4. Celebrate! The worst thing you can do is let the holiday-season blues keep you from having a good time. Spend time on Skype and thinking about your family, but then get out and make it a holiday wherever you are. You might choose to celebrate with a semi-traditional Thanksgiving feast or with a nontraditional Christmas-Day scuba dive. I hope to have many more holiday dinners with my family, but I know I will always cherish these years of ragtag feasts and miniature Christmas trees, since they’re not likely to happen again.