How to Survive the "Holiday Homesick Blues"
Regardless of how hard I try to suppress that yearly aching feeling, just as the cool fall wind begins to blow, and Germany is busy stocking its shelves with its share of fine Christmas goodies, the same old uneasy feeling starts poking at me from deep inside. That feeling is none other than the ‘homesick holiday blues.’ Don’t get me wrong - I am no Scrooge, and it’s not that I don’t really love the holidays. There is nothing that I enjoy more than decorating my apartment with festive decorations, overindulging in Christmas baked goods and racking up my credit card bill with purchases for myself and loved ones that can be justified simple by saying “Christmas comes around just once a year…”, but the struggles of missing family and friends and even the homeland during the holiday season seems to strain even more than usual on my expatriate life. This feeling is especially worse for those of us who are single and here alone (but that’s another matter altogether).
As an American, I also find myself frustrated by the fact that some of the holidays that I so enthusiastically celebrate in the USA are plain lacking or are just none existent in Germany- i.e. Halloween and Thanksgiving. It’s a very peculiar feeling for me to go into work on the Thanksgiving Thursday and not have the day off, and even more so, know that not everyone is going to be stuffing themselves with turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie that evening. Those moments are when I feel the most nostalgic and reminisce about holidays back at home with my family.
With all of that being said, despite the homesick holiday blues that encroach, I have realized that I am far from alone with this feeling, and over the years I have come up with some coping methods which are helpful in combating this annual virus.
- Don’t be alone. Be with your expatriate “family”- it’s very important not to isolate yourself during this time- that will just make you more miserable. Go out with the friends that you do have. You will find that a lot of your other expatriate friends who can’t be home at the holidays are probably feeling the same way and as many of us know, friendships with other foreigners can blossom very fast and they become your quasi family when abroad. Spend time with them. It will do you all some good and raise the level of holiday cheer.
- Celebrate anyways - It doesn’t really matter to me anymore that Halloween is not a big deal here. If it’s important to you, dress up in a costume anyways, regardless of how old you are- well maybe you shouldn’t do this at work or in a professional setting, but on your own private time, feel free to throw a Halloween party and invite your closest friends. The same goes for any other holiday- light your menorah for each night of Hanukah, and buy a copy of those claymation Christmas movies that appear on TV every year. Sometimes just doing these small little things to celebrate makes all the difference.
- Make friends of the same culture or with those who are enthusiastic about your culture. It helps a lot to have some friends who grew up in the same place you are from (language barrier elimination aside), or with people who are just plain enthusiastic about your culture and participating in your yearly traditions. Despite many of my non-American friends’ skepticism towards pumpkin pie, everyone who I have ever invited to my Thanksgivings (from my culture or another) have always been very grateful to experience a real American Thanksgiving (which of course they have seen on television or in film) and talk about it for years to come. It certainly makes everyone feel a little warm and fuzzy inside.
- Embrace the difference in traditions - even though there might be the same holidays in your home country and your new country, the way they chose to celebrate them might be greatly different - embrace this! I will never forget my first encounter with Glühwein, the warm wine served in German-speaking and other countries in Europe, and how I was repulsed by the thought at first glance. But after some convincing of some colleagues and a mug or two, drinking Glühwein is one of the things I look forward to the most and something I try to recreate for my friends and family when I can be lucky enough to share the holidays with them. Rather than fighting your new culture, find ways to appreciate it and sooner than you know these traditions will also be added to your yearly routine, making you feel a little more at home.
However your chose to spend, or ‘deal’ with the holidays, take some time to appreciate the contributions (people, traditions, lessons, etc.) from your homeland and your new home and how they have enriched your life. We never know how much time we will be spending in a given place or how much time we have with our loved ones, but we can do our best to be thankful for every moment – at home, or abroad-- and that my friends, is what genuine, jolly, holiday spirit is really all about.
Gabrielle Byko is an international communication professional who has studied and been working in Germany and Austria for the past 6 years. She has a passion for experiencing international culture exchange in all of its forms.