Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa, the holiday season is one of the merriest times of the year. Although it may have become overly hallmarked over recent years, at its roots, I’ve always believed the holiday season to be about celebrating the year with our friends and family. It’s about taking a moment to appreciate each other.

But you never know what you have until it’s gone, right? When I left home with grand plans to travel the world, I wasn’t thinking about what I might miss from home. I was thinking about what I might be missing out in the world.

First experiences being away for the holidays

My first Christmas away, I was surrounded by more snow than I knew what to do with, fireplaces, the kind of feasts I grew up with, Christmas trees, carolers and eggnog. It was just like home. Except it wasn’t home. Same country, but a lot of distance. The only family I had was my husband and a few friends I had met a month ago.

My first holiday season outside of Canada was in Australia. For being on the opposite end of the globe, it’s not so different from Canada. Except the holidays fall in their summer. Christmas in the summer! It was all wrong. These weren’t the holidays, surely.

In both situations, I was thrown outside my comfort zone, traditions stripped away and replaced with new ones. Whether it was sabering champagne on the slopes or trying oysters by the beach, my holiday seasons away from home have brought me such fond memories, but they’ve also brought on waves of nostalgia and homesickness. Difficulty reaching family due to the time difference only made it worse.

Managing Homesickness

It’s okay to be a little sad. Or a lot sad. I used to think it gets easier with time. Maybe it does for some, but for me, I’m finding it gets harder every year. It feels like these holidays away from home have just been other adventures. It feels like I haven’t had a real holiday season in four years. Luckily, I’ve found ways to ease the heartache when it all becomes a bit too much.

Leaving family and cultural traditions behind when spending the holidays somewhere new can be disorienting, but it also allows you to forge your own traditions!

1. Keep some traditions alive

Some people like to dress up for the holidays but I’ve always prioritized being warm and snuggly. I didn’t exactly have big cozy sweaters with me in Australia so I opted for a pair of fuzzy socks to match with my summer dress.

Another tradition I could easily make happen was having bubbles with Christmas breakfast. Since my birthday is also on Christmas, my family always made me a special breakfast which included sparkling wine (it started as mimosas when I was a teenager but gradually we dropped the orange juice). So no matter where I am in the world now, I’ll always have a bottle of bubbles on Christmas morning with something cozy on.

2. A taste of home

Incorporate some of your favourite traditional dishes in the feast. I can’t have a Christmas without my family’s famous mashed potatoes and gravy. I don’t care if it’s 35 degrees outside. Nothing says holidays like mashed potatoes. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try the local dishes, you might just leave with new menu items for the future, but there’s nothing wrong with a little fusion.

3. Utilize technology

I don’t do it as often as I should, but there’s no time like the holidays to make use of video calling. Sometimes a voice or written message is just not enough, especially when battling homesickness. The trick is to plan the call ahead time. With time zones and different plans, it’s easy to miss each other if you’re trying to surprise someone. If you have severe homesickness, you can even organize to join the family dinners and parties by video call!

4. Acknowledge your feelings

The worst thing you can do, I’ve learned from experience, is to sweep the sadness under the rug and act like you’re living the dream. There are always such high expectations around holidays. Take some time to process what you’re experiencing. Yearning. Longing. Nostalgia. Talk about it. There is room inside you for both homes.

4. Immerse yourself

Accept invitations from your friends. Join their holiday festivities. Join a community celebration. Yes, dedicate some time to connecting with loved ones back home or feeling your sadness, but then be present with where you are. Cherish the fond memories of past holidays but open your heart to new ones. It’s absolutely amazing to watch - and be invited into - all the ways humans celebrate family, love, and life.

Being away from home for the holidays can be hard but there is nothing stopping you from making it a memorable and happy experience.

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