Celebrating Holidays Abroad – Reasons to Love It

Celebrating Holidays AbroadHolidays are tough.  For everyone.  All over the world.  I’ve been celebrating the winter holidays abroad for a long time (in 10+ years abroad, I’ve spent three Christmases in the States).  Despite that, I’m finding that as this holiday season begins, I’m more homesick than usual.  I’m missing friends and family and pumpkin spice lattes.  Which is not to say that the life of an expat is not pretty damn sweet.  Indeed it is, and I know that the holiday homesickness will pass.  And, there are a few things about celebrating holidays abroad that are absolutely amazing.

Lowered Expectations

It’s true that because I work for the US government, I have a lot of help living abroad. I don’t have to ship my stuff myself or find a house or even find a my own damn turkey (true story! Our amazing Community Liaison Office at the Consulate organized a group turkey buy.).

Even with all of that, no one really expects me to get my act together for the holidays. Bringing a cheese and relish plate to Friendsgiving because I can’t be bothered to cook? FUCK YEAH, THERESA’S AMAZING! Keeping the stockings small because I forgot to order Christmas candy ahead of time? FUCK YEAH, WAY TO KEEP YOUR KID’S EXPECTATIONS REASONABLE, GREAT JOB, MOM.

Celebrating Holidays Abroad - Cheese and Relish Place
Actual cheese and relish plate. I wasn’t kidding.

Minimizing consumption

Man. The winter holidays in the US is ALL ABOUT THE STUFF. All about it. From Black Friday sales to pumpkin spice lattes. Ugh. Like, it’s not Christmas until your house is covered in stuff and it’s not Christmas until you’ve waited in line at Target for two hours because your kid’s got a holiday party and you forget to buy treats and it’s not Christmas until you’ve put the whole damn holiday on your credit card.


Here in Jerusalem (and as has been the case since Cotonou when we moved in together), Christmas is about family and friends. Especially in West Jerusalem, where the big winter holiday is Chanukah, there isn’t any sort of pressure to spend, spend, and spend.

Minimizing the kid’s exposure to commercialism

Along with minimizing consumption is minimizing my kids’ exposure to Christmas as a commercial holiday. Christmas is a family and religious holiday. We celebrate the story of a refugee family who needed a place to stay in the Winter (yes, that’s the spin that we give, NEVER MISS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR INDOCTRINATION). While we will get our children four presents each, we stick to a pretty strict policy of minimal gift giving, choosing to spend our money on experiences and time with friends instead.

Christmas Tree and Menorah in Haifa, Israel
Christmas Tree and Menorah in Haifa, Israel

Celebrating with friends

For my family, celebrating the holidays means celebrating the people who are most important to us. Family is wonderful, and both my spouse and I miss celebrating the holidays with our families. But I LOVE the fact that while we’re abroad, we celebrate them with friends, or rather, the family that we’ve created for ourselves as we move from country to country.

Celebrating with different cultures

Last year, we took the kids walking through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City to admire the Chanukiot during the week before Christmas. We told the story of soldiers returning home after exile, and the miracle of candles that stayed lit for eight days. We enjoy Christmas in Bethlehem, and a street fair in Haifa that celebrates the co-existance of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in Haifa. In Freetown, we hit the beach with friends, and in Cotonou, we invited our Muslim neighbors to join us for the holiday.

Jasmine and Grace admiring the Chanukiot in the Old City, Jerusalem
Jasmine and Grace admiring the Chanukiot in the Old City, Jerusalem

This isn’t to #humblebrag about the diversity of our friends, but to point out that it’s a lot easier to integrate other cultures into our holiday celebrations when we’re not living in the U.S. and juggling both cultural pressure and family expectations to do holidays in a certain way.

And that’s five great reasons to love celebrating holidays abroad! What do you love most about the winter holidays?


34 thoughts on “Celebrating Holidays Abroad – Reasons to Love It

  1. I am still LOLing at “find my own damn turkey”! 😂😂 What a great post. I look forward to my boys getting older so we can travel abroad and this post really reminds me of why that is so important. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you! We’ve been traveling since the girls were babies (I took Grace on her first trip abroad at 6 weeks!) and it is eye opening how differently they see the world than I do.

  2. Haha, yes lowered expectations! This will be our first Thanksgiving and Christmas in the Caribbean. Friends had us over for Thanksgiving dinner, otherwise we would have skipped it completely. I am looking forward to spending Christmas on the beach.

  3. I am desperate to spend Christmas abroad but flights from the UK are so expensive!! Saving up to spend next Christmas abroad but its just choosing the destination! Great post :)

    1. Or take the train! The amazing thing about Europe is “abroad” is just a short ways aways. Let me know where you end up going–I love hearing about how people celebrate their holidays when traveling.

  4. We need to be best friends! ;) We just spent Thanksgiving in Croatia and it was lovely not to have to deal with the holiday at all. Of course, we missed friends and family, but I love skipping the hype. And Black Friday? Not a thing on this island. Looking forward to Christmas in Bavaria with all the trimmings, but without the excessive gift giving! And I am using that refuge story.

    1. Right? I love the fact that being abroad makes holidays so much more low key. (PS, going through your blog right now … love all of your posts on how to enjoy cities with kids!).

  5. It’s true that it really does change our expectations, and sometimes for the better! Although I miss Christmas at home sometimes, being able to experience how other countries celebrate and find new and exciting traditions is something really special. As long as I can go home once in awhile haha.

    1. Yeah, but only every once in a while, right? My mom and I joke that it’s easiest to love each other when we’re 5000 miles away. ;)

  6. Oh I can see that celebrating abroad can be tough. Though it seems you are an expert already in celebrating abroad I can understand the feelings and that you feel more homesick than usual. Hope you get to celebrate some at home anytime soon :)

  7. Ohhhh I’ve had to try to find my own turkey abroad, and let me tell you, it can be freaking hard! I’ve spent the last 6 Christmases abroad, and I’m definitely a bit homesick for a Canadian white Christmas!

  8. Agree with these! Christmas is way too commercialised these days. We much prefer the family oriented side to the holidays. I’d like to spend Christmas abroad one day to see how it’s celebrated in a different country.

    1. I’d say one Christmas at home every four years or so is just about right. ;) That’s about what we manage, and it works out really well. I miss family too, but the memories we’re making abroad are incredible.

  9. You’re right. Too much money involved in what should be pure and more focused on people around (not only the closest ones) so you hit the point! Thanks for reminding us what is the most important!

  10. Interesting take on things – I have never celebrated Christmas away from New England, and I totally hear ya with the commercialism bit. I tend to be a holiday hermit because of this. I think I would really enjoy the holidays abroad.

  11. My entire family went cruising 8 years during the Christmas holiday. Though the rates were three times more expensive, we opted to cruise in lieu of buying unnecessary and unwanted gifts, plus to alleviate the stress that leads up to the holiday itself.I highly recommend. You have some great reasons listed here and keeping kids from the commercialized hype is my favorite.

  12. What a unique take on celebrating the holidays abroad. I love how this is different from a lot of other posts about being so sad to spend the holidays abroad. I really appreciate that you take the time to see how great it can be to spend the holidays in other places.

  13. Great post, this year will be our first abroad and we are both excited about it and a little nervous too about how it is going to feel. But we have always wanted to do a Christmas abroad so hopefully it will be fun! I think it also probably depends where you are too!

  14. I completely agree with you! Growing up I always wished I had a big family, but now I really appreciate having a small family because our holiday “tradition” is traveling! Since there are only 4 of us, we take advantage of the holidays to travel. I can’t remember the last time I was home for Christmas, but for all the reasons you stated, I love being abroad for the holidays!
    Diana – MVMT Blog recently posted: What We Loved, Hated, and Learned From Our 2016 TravelsMy Profile

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