I live overseas, and I have not visited home in over six years. That means six years of Christmas, New Year’s and my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, have been spent away from family. One year, I was brought to tears when my manager said the school would be having traditional American Thanksgiving, only to find out that after all that hype she meant a slice of turkey on bread, oven baked French fries and chicken nuggets.
But it hasn’t all been so bad — I am surrounded by friends that are just as enthusiastic as me about the holidays, plus I can participate in a culture with their own traditions and holidays. So if you’re like me and feel sad or lonely when you’re reminded that you can’t (or don’t want to) go home during the holidays, here is your guide.
Make it communal
If you’re a single student like me or otherwise not loaded enough to have your personal chef make a holiday feast, invite your friends to pitch in. Celebrating the holidays potluck style is a great way to show off your favorite traditional dishes without too much pressure. You can organize what people will bring or you can make it a surprise. One Christmas, a ridiculous number of people brought bottles of wine, while our less Christmas-inclined Taiwanese friend brought pizza and ice cream. It was interesting, to say the least – and at the same time we didn’t feel like we had missed out on our most precious traditions because there were still those who brought their favorite Christmas dishes.
Making it communal goes beyond food, though. A gift exchange like Secret Santa or White Elephant is a great way to add fun and ensure that everyone can get into the holiday spirit. If you’re unfamiliar, White Elephant is simple: The first person unwraps a gift, and the next person can choose to open another gift or steal the previous one. There are many variations, but whatever the rules, it’s always gratifying to be the one to steal away the best present (for us that same year, it was two bottles of wine).
Make it a date
I was surprised to find that Christmas here in Taiwan is more of a dating holiday. And why not? If you aren’t tied up visiting relatives, holidays can make an interesting date night. Full disclosure: I have had two long-term relationships start on Christmas. It can be a lonely holiday, and that is an incentive for people to meet each other. This is an instant boost to your spirits—plus, New Year’s is an epic second date. And of course, holidays can also make great date nights for couples who have been together for a long time. Have coffee or hot cocoa, take a walk in a wintery park, and see a movie.
But you don’t have to meet someone special to go out with your friends during the holidays. Instead of a feast at home, why not at a nice restaurant? If you aren’t a stickler for tradition, why not try sushi instead of turkey? Or an Indian curry? You and your friends might just like it enough to start a new tradition.
“Celebrating the holidays potluck style is a great way to show off your favorite traditional dishes without too much pressure.“
Make it unconventional
Speaking of breaking traditions, something I have grown to love about the holiday season with friends is the fact that they are all from different countries. Within a few months, I have celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving, American Thanksgiving, Diwali, Sinterklaas, Chinese Mid-Winter Festival, Christmas, New Year’s, Russian Christmas and Chinese New Year. There are many other holidays around the same time, too. Participating in any and all of them means your friends aren’t missing out on their special days, you’re feeling great about sharing your own holidays with them, and you will have more fun more often. And you don’t actually need a friend from a different country to learn about and celebrate a new holiday — just give it a try.
Trading holiday traditions with your friends also includes the same holiday celebrated differently in other countries, or even in other households. After all, even friends who grew up across the street from each other have different holiday traditions.
Make it creative
The holidays don’t always have to be about eating and drinking. Take your friends out to do something new. Black Friday Bungee jumping, perhaps? Go-carting for Hanukah? If you get creative and do something unique for the holidays, you’ll remember it a lot longer.
Be creative with the holidays themselves, too. They don’t always have to be on one specific day or mean one specific thing. Some people make their own holidays. Just look at Festivus – the holiday was started by a scriptwriter who put it in a Seinfeld episode and now countless people celebrate it every December 23. The holiday can also be moved to a more convenient day. A lot of people don’t want to face the crowds and the expense of going to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, so they celebrate it on a different day. After all, the day is only significant because we all agree it symbolizes something. So what’s to stop you and your friends from agreeing that a different day has symbolic meaning? Plus, this could be a way to lift your spirits and look forward to something if you’re stuck working on a holiday.
The holidays are for celebration with those that you care about, so what it all comes down to is being creative enough to make that celebration happen. Just remember to be flexible. Even if you’re a stickler for tradition, bring your favorite traditions to your friends and keep them alive together. And remember all traditions were started by someone, so there is no reason you and your friends can’t start more of your own. Who knows, they might even be passed on for generations.
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