The Pros and Cons of Christmas Abroad

Anyone who lives a fairly nomadic life will likely spend some major holidays outside their home country eventually. It’s an enlightening, interesting, and yes, even challenging experience that can vary a lot depending on what your own traditions are like, and the traditions of the place you’re spending the holiday. Here’s my thoughts on spending yet another Christmas abroad.

I’ve spent three of the last four Christmases in Buenos Aires, where I’ve discovered some of the pros, as well of the cons, of spending this holiday abroad, and in Buenos Aires in particular. Since Argentina is in the Southern Hemisphere, one of the biggest differences for those from the North is celebrating Christmas in the summer. Those images of Santa Claus that are becoming more predominant here are pretty hard to relate to when it’s 90-plus degrees outside! And it’s a real challenge to get into the Christmas spirit if you grew up associating this time of year with cozy nights spent in front of the fire, getting bundled up to play in the snow, and decorations with winter-themed images.

Over the last month, locals have been preparing for summer vacation, and they waited until December 8, Día de la Virgen, to even think about doing any decorating. Meanwhile, online, I saw articles from U.S. sources describing ways one can avoid the stress of the holidays, and was bombarded with comments about how many shopping days were left until Christmas. I sweat through most of December feeling truly thankful to be away from the world of a million holiday parties and the pressure to buy lots of presents. I suspect that those who, like me, would rather move away from the consumerist traditions that have overtaken Christmas in the States find that spending the holiday season abroad is a great way to shift the focus back to the things that really matter, like spending time with family and friends – and eating plenty of tasty food (but not getting stressed out about preparing it all)!

However, it is exactly this focus on “what matters” that can make holidays abroad difficult. For the first time since I moved to Buenos Aires, none of my family came to visit for Christmas, and I didn’t go back to the U.S. I didn’t think it would be that big a deal – after all, I do have family here now – my fiancé and his family – and I knew we’d spend December 24th, Nochebuena, together. But in Argentina, at least, Nochebuena is celebrated a lot like New Year’s Eve – a big dinner with family as the anticipation builds until midnight, when people set off fireworks in the streets and everyone makes a toast to a Feliz Navidad with sparkling wine or cider and some traditional treats. December 25th is then a lot like January 1 – a day to sleep off the food and alcohol of the day before and just relax – and not much more. I found myself feeling pretty sad yesterday, realizing that being in a place where the traditions are so different made me feel even farther from my family and friends than normal.

As we create independent lives and families apart from the immediate family we grew up with, we all have to create our own traditions, and many of us have to get used to not having all our friends and family together at every important event or holiday. Creating new traditions might be even more important for nomads, who will likely find themselves a long distance from familiar ways of doing things but may be seeking some sense of tradition. Or perhaps the best solution is just to throw yourself completely into whatever traditions you find around you, and give up trying to make it something it’s not. Roberto suggested yesterday that we spend Christmas in a different country every year, sampling different ways of celebrating that we can incorporate as we create traditions that are uniquely ours.

What’s your experience been with spending holidays abroad, or far from friends and family? Wherever you’ve celebrated, have you combined family traditions with new ways of doing things?

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2 Responses to “The Pros and Cons of Christmas Abroad”

  1. marianney Says:

    I have lived far away from my parents for 14 years now (they are in FL, i am in CO) and I don’t see them every Christmas. Like you, my fiance’s family is all here in CO so I never NOT have family to spend it with. I too struggle with how things will be when we move abroad and it may not be so easy to see family during the holidays. But like you said, it’s time to start our own family traditions and I really like Roberto’s idea about spending it in a different country every year. Although maybe I might only do that every other year and spend the years in between travelling back to see family ;)

  2. World Nomad Says:

    Great post! And yes I have also combined old and new traditions at Christmas. After all, whenever you see your family is good and it does not have to be during an official holiday.

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