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Homesick Holiday Help

Marseille’s Christmas market, the Foire aux Santons, is one new tradition I’m looking forward to. Photo credit: Ladmedia.fr

Having lived outside of the United States for most of my life, I thought that I’d be relatively immune to “homesickness” for America and its obsession with festive cheer at this time of year. But to my surprise, I’ve found that I miss the American take on the holidays. The decorations, music, and seasonal drinks and treats… The focus on family and friends… those things make me feel fuzzy, warm, and safe. Something that is certainly missable. Even though I am not a WWII soldier, I can relate to that far-from-home Christmas classic.

So I’ve tried a few ways to beat the December blues.

First thing’s first: you have to take the initiative. Boston and Marseille are worlds apart at Christmastime; the south of France has far more understated lights in the streets, far fewer shop displays, and – most of all – no snow! Without these external cues, it takes resolve to celebrate instead of moping around feeling sentimental.

So I’m getting a Christmas tree and office poinsettia, and I’m on the hunt for the best decorations Provence has to offer. I’m playing my holiday music on repeat. And I’m converting my recipes into the metric system so I can make my annual apple pie.

Next, it’s time to get other people excited and involved. There’s something particularly gratifying about sharing traditions and customs across cultures. So invite your other expatriate – or local – friends over for a holiday party, teach them Christmas carols, swap sugar cookie and pumpkin pie recipes and appreciate your guests’ traditions too.

For Thanksgiving, a friend hosted a pintade dinner (African guinea fowl), since finding a turkey in France was challenging. I’m having an ugly sweater party, because, as cliché as it is, it’s something that I’ve never done and it’s fun. Let go of apprehensions and stereotypes, just let your enthusiasm and happiness radiate out to those around you. They’d be crazy not to catch on.

Finally, I’m proactively staying in touch – and even shooting for overcommunicating – with my family and friends back home. It can be easy to forget that you are missed, too. But you’re not that far away with Skype, Google Hangouts, iMessage/What’s App, Facebook and emails. Ask your loved ones to keep you in the loop – most will be happy to feel more connected to you.

All you expats out there: how do you stay positive when you’re feeling homesick? What fun traditions have you made your own in your new country?

Julia Shew
Julia is a native Kansan, but lived in the United Arab Emirates for 18 years before returning to the US for college. She is fascinated by travel and its influence on personal identity, which, for her, usually translates into eating, drinking and dancing her way to self-actualization.

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