Surviving Christmas Overseas

I love Christmas music. I mean, who doesn’t, right? As I was assembling my playlist of favorites for this season, I just couldn’t include one particular song. When I hear the words “I’ll be home for Christmas… if only in my dreams”, I normally dissolve in a puddle of tears or start making a list of all the things I’m missing at home, turning my heart into one big discontented mess.

I’ve spent 4 of the last 5 Christmases thousands of miles from my loved ones and snow and favorite traditions. Honestly, those first couple of years were pretty miserable (due in part to bouts of food poisoning on Christmas Eve. Twice.) I’ve learned a few things, though, and want to share some ideas for not only how to survive when you’re on the other side of the world, but how to hold tight to joy and Jesus too.

DO decorate. It might take a lot of creativity, and keeping things simple but take the time to make your home festive for the holidays. My first year in Cambodia my teammate and I couldn’t afford a big tree (although there were actually some available!) and we lived in a tiny apartment. We settled for a little one-footer, and got busy with scissors removing the gaudy gold decorations that were glued to the branches. We visited a few local NGOs that had ornaments for sale, grabbed a red scarf from the market to use as a tree skirt, and made one corner of our living room as beautiful as we could.

Make new traditions. One of the hardest things for me has been how much I LOVE my family’s traditions and yet most of them are impossible to carry out overseas. So, my teammate and I have put our heads together and mixed elements from both our families’ traditions, then brain stormed ways we could actually make some things happen and become traditions from year to year. For several years we made a Christmas vacation trip to the coast and dipped our toes in the frigid water- definitely not something that happens in Nebraska in December!

Set aside extra money in your budget. It might be to get that nice tree, or to have a few special treats shipped over. Or if you’re in the tropics like me, it might be cranking up the AC so you can sip hot chocolate and put together a puzzle without dripping sweat all over. Intentionally plan ahead for ways to really make things special.

Don’t forget special scents. It’s amazing how many memories are triggered by specific smells, isn’t it? Stick a pine scented candle in your suitcase and pull it out when you decorate. Or, have a friend send you the Christmas Spirit essential oil from Young Living. Diffuse it, add a few drops to a cotton ball and tuck it on a shelf in the bathroom, or just inhale it straight out of the bottle (um, that would be me).

Don’t be afraid to invite friends over. I was usually afraid of letting my local friends know I wasn’t being totally immersed in the culture and bringing in traditions from home. But I’ve found my friends love learning new things! Use it as an opportunity to share the true meaning of Christmas.

Share specific ideas with friends and family. It is hard for them to know what might be the most encouraging to you, so go ahead and be specific! Ask them to scan their Christmas card and email it to you if you’re afraid the snail mail version might get lost somewhere over the ocean. Amazon, iTunes, and other gift cards make wonderful gifts and are something easy and cost-effective for friends to send (and are a great gift for you to give as well). It’s okay to let people know!

Let Jesus be your comfort. Sometimes when we are lonely and longing for home, it can be a reminder of our true home and the reason we celebrate a baby born thousands of years ago. When my heart feels anything but peaceful when I’m overseas at Christmastime, I need to turn my focus to the Prince of Peace.

If you are living overseas, what are some ways you have found to truly seek out joy in the Christmas season? 

If you know and love someone serving overseas, do you have any fun ideas for how you encourage them? 

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2 thoughts on “Surviving Christmas Overseas

  1. Thank you Sarah, this is so good, do you mind if I forward this to my granddaughter who moved to Minnesota? Being in Vegas is so different, we are closer to Jim’s family who Moved to AZ, but it’s all desert.

    Like

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