This time of year always makes me feel extra homesick. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to deal with homesickness this week in particular, with Thanksgiving and Christmas quickly approaching. Last year, we spent Christmas in upstate New York and visiting family in surrounding areas. Since living abroad, we’ve had a different plan each year. This year is our sixth year away from the States and before that, we were in the States, but far away from all family for about seven years.
I grew up in Rochester, NY, always making the Top 10 lists of snowiest cities in the US (here, here and here). I lived in the same place, the same house for the first 18 years of my life. Thanksgiving and Christmas have a very specific picture in my mind. My parents are amazing and always did a great job making the holidays feel really special. It’s hard not being there with family and friends and even harder not being able to share it every year with my kids.
Last week, Felix, our 4-year-old, exclaimed, “Soon we’re going on a plane to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for Christmas! We get to see them and all our cousins!” Cue heartbreak. Honestly, it’s the worst. We did our best to explain this to him, but there is only so much you really want to explain about it being expensive to fly back to a 4-year-old.
Over the last years as an expat family, we’ve spent the holidays: camping around New Zealand, in Bremen, Germany, in London, in London with my parents, in Rochester, and this year, in London. We’ve had some fantastic opportunities, but there’s something about the holidays that makes me just want to be in one place surrounded by lots of people I love.
Over these years, we’ve come up with certain ways to help deal with homesickness. It’s still there, but these are some ideas that have helped us. Hopefully, something here can help you too.
How To Deal With Homesickness When You Live Far Away
- Bring Traditions To You & Create New Traditions
Are there specific traditions that are particularly meaningful to you? Even if they’re location-dependent, could you create something similar wherever you go? Seth and I had years before we had kids to talk about what kinds of traditions we wanted to have for our family. We’ve introduced new traditions over the years, some have stuck and some have been discontinued for one reason or another.
We play lots of games and cards over the holidays, now easier with one and now, two kids that are old enough to enjoy with us. We have Breakfast Casserole and Monkey Bread on Christmas morning. We’ve incorporated the German tradition of Raclette on New Year’s Eve. We try to have a firepit fire in the fall and winter as much as possible. We get pumpkins and carve them for Halloween. The list goes on.
Decorating for the holidays looks different to everyone, but decide what you like and make decorating an event. We don’t have many holiday decorations from moving and minimising, but we always get a tree and make a to-do about decorating it. We also have a few decorations and we like to hang lights. Make something Christmasy to snack on and something special to drink, turn on the music and go for it, together with the kids.
- Donate Your Time and/or Money
I have very distinct memories of going shopping every year for a few children that wouldn’t typically receive Christmas gifts for one reason or another. We’d go to the store with a list of their needs and wants, and together with my parents, we’d pick clothes and toys to wrap for these kids. To be fair, I don’t know if this is the best or most helpful way to give back, but it made an impression on me as a child. Finding a way to give back to families or children over the holiday time is a good idea for the obvious reasons, but also, it helps remind you about everything you have to be thankful for and gives a bit of perspective.
- Get Your Kids Involved
Kids are the best at getting excited about a new idea or activity. If you present something as new and special starting when they’re little, they continue to share that enthusiasm toward new and exciting ideas and activities most of the time. I can’t yet speak for teens, but so far, things can be quite fun with kids that are enthusiastic to be involved.
- Connect With Friends & Family, Far & Near
Even though you’re far away, connect with people. Call, Facetime, text, tell them you miss them! With friends that are close, plan something special together – get together for a meal, head out to look at Christmas lights together, meet at a holiday event, get a sitter and meet up for holiday drinks. Surround yourself with people you love and make it feel different than the usual weekly routine.