I can honestly say that, until this year, I’ve never been truly homesick. Yes, there have been things I’ve missed and celebrations that I’ve been disappointed not to attend but, on the whole, I’ve managed to avoid feeling too nostalgic for home. In the past, whenever I missed loved ones, I could easily book a last minute flight or Eurostar ticket and would almost immediately be surrounded by familiar sights and faces. But this year, in addition to its tragic economic and human impact, COVID-19 has thrown a spanner in the works. Like many expats, we’re fast-approaching a Christmas that will be spent away from loved ones. I find myself longing for things that I used to take for granted; browning the Christmas markets, our annual family trip to see The Nutcracker and, most of all, spending the festive season with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. However, we can’t allow ourselves to get too despondent: this year more than ever we need to celebrate as much as we can! With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of things that will help my family stay cheerful this Christmas and I hope it helps you too!
Christmas is the season of loving and giving but it's also a time to indulge! One of my favourite things about Christmas at home is enjoying all the delicious dishes that have become family tradition. With that in mind, this year we’ve treated ourselves to all the wonderful Christmas foods we usually eat with our loved ones. Why not see if you can get some of your favourite traditional festive foods delivered (do order soon though to make sure it arrives for the big day) or maybe even learn to make them? My mother is usually in charge of the Christmas meal but this year I’ll be rolling up my sleeves to try and create all her wonderful dishes here in Switzerland.
Every family has their own festive traditions and ours usually involves a trip to the theatre. Over the years we’ve seen a variety of shows ranging from fun pantomimes to carol concerts and ballets. Since it won’t be possible to go to the theatre this year, we’re planning on bringing the show to our home instead! Many theatres and concert halls around the world kept us all entertained during the first lockdown by streaming past and live performances, we’re hoping that they’ll do the same over Christmas (try to make a donation if possible as the arts really need our help!). We’re also planning on watching our favourite Christmas films; there’s nothing like snuggling under a blanket with a hot chocolate to watchElforThe Polar Expressto fill you with festive cheer!
It isn’t ideal to be spending Christmas far away from relatives but thankfully platforms such as Skype and Zoom can help us feel more connected. When it was my son’s birthday during lockdown, we had a family party online, even making sure that everyone had a cake for the occasion! It made my son feel as though he was still getting to celebrate with his cousins and grandparents and definitely made his day! This Christmas, why not send some festive e-invites to your nearest and dearest? Pop on your favourite Christmas playlist, open a bottle of champagne and have a festive party online with your loved ones!
This has been a tough year for all of us and we need to remember to be kind not only to others but ourselves. If you’re missing home and your loved ones, treat yourself to whatever makes you feel good: if that’s a Christmas movie and ice-cream, go for it! If it’s a calming yoga session, then go for that too! As people are stranded all over the globe this winter with no chance of getting home, it’s also important to think about other expat friends and colleagues who may be spending Christmas alone this year. Maybe drop them a note to see how they’re doing or, if rules in your area permit, invite them out for a warming mulled wine or as they call it here in Switzerland, Glühwein.
If it feels too painful to try and recreate your home country traditions, why not try and embrace the local festive traditions? My family spent one Christmas in Norway and had great fun experiencing a truly Norwegian Christmas. Instead of trying to create a British Christmas abroad, we fully embraced the local traditions and dishes: I loved the cinnamon-flavoured risengrynsgrøt although I have to admit that I wasn’t brave enough to try the lutefisk!
If you’re facing a Christmas away from loved ones, I hope this list gives you some inspiration. It has been a challenging year for all of us and, as many countries face a second lockdown, it seems more important than ever to find the joy in the small things! Wherever in the world you are celebrating, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!