I’ve become a kind of veteran when it comes to celebrating the holidays away from my family.
Then again I’m not exactly the most loved family member, which could be why I am able to stay so far away for such long lengths of time. But that’s another story.
Over the years I have found ways to have the most memorable experiences with amazing people all over the world by sharing and celebrating with them. These are some of the ways, I’ve found, that you can survive the holidays while abroad.
Maybe I’m a bit cynical, but Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. there’s just something fantastic about dressing up and watching scary movies during the entire month of October. This is one holiday that isn’t widely celebrated outside the US and Canada, and can be a bit strange for citizens of other countries.
One year I was in Chile, and the way they celebrated was my host family cooked up strange foods (too look like zombie fingers and brains) and wore minimal costumes while drinking and eating with the entire family. This was by far, my favorite Halloween I’ve ever had. We laughed and talked until the sun came up. Since we didn’t have many trick-or-treaters, we ate most of candy on our own.
The past 2 years I’ve been in Korea and it’s REALLY not understood or celebrated here. My kindergarten last year had the foreign teachers put on a show of Hansel and Gretel while the students wore bunny ears and cute witch hats. I found that many of the foreign teachers wear their costumes to school for the kids and they love it.
This year at school since I have 25 classes a week and only see each class only once a week, I decided to wear a different costume everyday. I told you I love Halloween ;).
That didn’t go over well.
My school is a private all boys school and while the kids loved it, the other teachers in my office were shocked and confused. It became such a big deal (mind you the first day I was a vampire wearing only black clothes and smeared lipstick) that I eventually wiped off my makeup. I was told that I looked too “grotesque”and that the principal doesn’t understand Halloween. The 2nd day I almost didn’t do anything, but decided “fuck them, the kids love it and the principal can say it to my face” and I wore a cheetah shirt and drew some whiskers on my face. The principal loved it and gave me many thumbs up. Although other teachers still gasped in horror and disapproved so I stopped that.
Side note: They somehow snapped a picture of me teaching like that and PUT IT IN THE DAMN SCHOOL BROCHURE… WTF. And to make it worst I look super serious as if I always dress that way for school.
And my tip for enjoying this awesome holiday is…
Don’t be discouraged if it seems like you’re the only one that wants to celebrate. If you’re a teacher and you want to dress up, your students will love you for it. You can also find other expats who will dress up with you and go to the night clubs. Or if you’re not the party type, then have a scary movie marathon at your place with friends.
Thanksgiving is literally just an excuse to eat and be around people you care about. This is something that you can do almost anywhere. Sure you can’t replace your family, but you can find good friends that will be willing to help you celebrate and feel loved.
My tip for making Thanksgiving a little better while away from home is..
If you’re just traveling through a country, I suggest going to a restaurant with other travelers or cooking food at the Hostel/Airbnb/wherever you’re staying. If you’re an expat, ask your fellow expats if they are interested in doing a potluck.
Trust me, people are always willing to join a potluck if it means eating different foods than are served in your country of residence. For example, in Korea rice and spicy kimchis are everywhere and any chance I get to eat anything but that, I’m super happy… Not that I don’t enjoy it, but a break is nice.
The past two years I’ve been to pot lucks, and for the first time in 3 years I had turkey this year. I went to Busan this weekend to celebrate with my Italian friends and one of them works at an international school. Her chef used to be Putin’s personal chef before working at her school, and needless to say the turkey was absolutely amazing. It was expensive, but totally worth it. Turkey is definitely not something you can find everywhere and you don’t know how much you miss it until you haven’t had in eons.
I know some people will call me the Grinch, but Christmas isn’t one of my favorite holidays. The last 3 Christmases I have been living abroad, and I can say that I’ve finally found “The Spirit of Christmas”.
While living in Chile, my host family spent the holiday together under one roof. Though they didn’t have much money, they found ways to give the most heartfelt gifts. The kind that just shows how well they know each other. And even though I wasn’t related to them in anyway, they still treated me as one of the family. They even had gifts for me! That was something that was totally unexpected and it made my time with them all the more special.
That brings me to my next tip.
Try to spend the holiday with friends you’ve made. While they will never replace your family, they are the closest you’ll have this holiday! You’re also sure to make unique and lasting memories together.
The last couple of years I’ve been in Korea, so last year I tried to round up my fellow expats to drink and eat. We also did a secret Santa! You don’t have to give gifts of course, the most important thing is that you have a good time with your friends. If you’re out backpacking, then see what others are up to that evening and join them! Or you can go the unconventional route and try bungee jumping or sky diving, that’s sure to be an exciting Christmas!
I’m not sure what this years Christmas will hold, but I’m sure I’ll find a way to have a good time 🙂
And don’t forget!