i can barely believe that this is already my sixth holiday season away from home.
at first, spending christmas in europe was an absolutely fantastic and magical thing and i couldn’t have been happier! the christmas traditions here are beautiful and even more elaborate than i can remember from childhood. however at about year four, i noticed it started getting a little harder; perhaps the sheen had dulled ever so slightly. despite not being home (again) for christmas and being away from my dear family and friends, i am a die-hard forever merry christmas celebrater and i wanted to share with you how you can make this upcoming holiday season absolutely wonderful and unforgettable, despite being away from where you call home.
i list two distinct categories with different tips: spending the holidays away from home somewhere else (your new home in a different country, a friend’s house abroad), and spending the holidays on vacation with a hotel room as your base.
spending christmas away from home (in your new city)
play christmas music from your childhood
aside from smell which is perhaps the strongest, the second strongest sense tied to human memories must be hearing, and to listen to the songs that you used to hear decorating the tree together with your family as a child can bring the fondest feelings. bring those songs with you! use your own portable speaker or just listen on your headphones on the train to bring a bit of happiness into your december day. unpopular opinion: after much deliberation, i came to the fact that, although i love both, 98 degrees’ christmas album is better than n’sync’s. (ducks flying projectiles)
get a christmas tree & decorate
i don’t know about you, but i have not found a “christmas tree farm” in my current home abroad yet (fat chance), but i certainly have found a tree lot!
we would never miss the opportunity to bring home a tree and enjoy the sight and smell of it throughout the month of december, even if we traveling on christmas. i feel it’s also about enjoying the whole season, not just the day. seek out a place and carry or even take it on the metro home, if you have to! invest in a set of ornaments from tesco (or other big shop) and some strings of lights. make your home bursting full of holiday hygge, even if it’s only your temporary home. it will be worth it for the pleasant, cozy and homey atmosphere you’ll be able to enjoy all month long.
make favorite family dishes
keep your family traditions going by preparing that christmas casserole or ham yourself! if it’s your first time making these dishes, it will be a lesson most excellent in cooking and preparation. if you always made christmas cookies, go out and get a couple cookie-cutters and even use a wine bottle rolling pin (which i may or may have not done for a few years) and get to work – even invite a buddy and make a festive afternoon of it. (last year’s successes, above)
seek out a musical performance or cultural happening
choir and gospel performances, plays, the ballet – the possibilities are endless for christmas entertainment offerings throughout the month of december. i try to take in at least one big holiday performance a year and it has been such a great addition to the month and all those merry and bright feelings. (here, we went to tabor for the day to take in their lovely market & entertainment)
gather together with friends
i grew up with a small family so lots of people around aren’t necessarily essential to my experience, but if you are used to large family gatherings, why not plan an event, like a christmas day luncheon, a potluck, or the aforementioned cookie baking afternoon? i’m sure you’ll have friends in the same boat as you who would be really thankful to have such a cozy festive friend event to go to.
plan out an elaborate schedule of holiday movies or tv shows
if you were like me, the tv of my childhood was always on around the holidays with loads of tv movies and shows on and nothing feels cozier than a favorite christmas film around the holidays! bring, download, or plan to watch several of your favorites! this year, we’re queuing up home alone 2, a christmas story, and a few oldies like meet me in st. louis and holiday inn.
partake in new christmas traditions from the place where you are
when i studied abroad in germany ten years ago, i fell head-over-heels in love with the advent season there…i mean, how can you not? after that year, every christmas at home involved making gluehwein, purchasing an advent calendar, finding some proper lebkuchen (german gingerbread) substitution and something that somewhat resembled that of a christmas market. give in and do what the locals do… you will be surprised how much you miss it when you are back home! this is something i need to remind myself right now as i spend christmases in europe, i think…
spending christmas on a holiday (in a hotel)
bring a select few decorations and candles
a string of lights, a window hanging, and some deliciously smelling candles can do a lot to spruce up a hotel room and make it feel (almost) like home. alex used to laugh at me for bringing candles with me on a trip – but who’s laughing after they witness the undeniably festive and super cozy situation i create in the hotel room? no one, i say! trust me: just bring that string of lights!
ask at booking if the hotel can place a small christmas tree in your room
a few years ago, my mother (unbeknownst to me) contacted the hotel i was staying at with this request… and it came true! i never even knew about it until just recently, but i was really thankful for a bit of extra holiday cheer that day!
bring a few wrapped presents so you have something to open on christmas
just a few should do it, or you can bring them all if you have the room, but it certainly makes it feel more at home when there is at least something to open on christmas. it will seem like a hassle to do this, but it makes the day feel so much more like christmas if you do, i promise. if you don’t want to or can’t bring many extra things with you, consider investing in an unforgettable experience you can do there, instead.
pack loads of snacks and really special holiday treats
i have spent a christmas each in austria and germany, and i can tell you, not a lot of restaurants are open on the 24th of december. in small villages, they are almost all shut. one year, i packed a load of treats (above) like vacuum-packed smoked salmon, crackers, cheese, clementine oranges, mince pies, scottish tea cakes, a loaf of czech christmas bread, a bottle of port… you get the picture. snacks that say “holiday” rather than just a typical day. it’s great to have them in your room on the off chance you aren’t able to find a nice big holiday meal when you want to (example, if all the restaurants you come across are closed).
plan a sumptuous holiday feast
make reservations at a snazzy place that has a special holiday menu and share a holiday meal you’ll never forget! although many restaurants are closed on december 24th (christmas day in much of continental europe), you’ll find that on december 25th, they’re back in business, so it makes a great day to go out for a meal (and even a concert or a movie).
have a magical local experience
research an event calendar for your destination to find something that you will never forget. it could be that the only thing going on in the small village is a childrens’ christmas play complete with carols in a tiny church… or a boat cruise on a mountain lake as snow falls all around you… give in to what is there and local and you might find a new favorite local tradition to cherish in years to come.
above all, don’t let circumstances dictate how you would like to spend the holidays. spend them in your own way – whether that is over-the-top like me… or if you don’t get the urge to do much and you’re okay with that, that is absolutely a fine way to go, too.
what other tips or experiences would you add?
may your holidays be both merry and bright this year, wherever you happen to be in the world. (because wherever you go, there you are)