Last year I spent Christmas in Berlin, Germany. It didn’t make sense for me to fork over the $1000+ plane ticket to go home for a visit, and quite frankly, I was looking forward to an obligation-free holiday.
To be honest, it was one of the most enjoyable holidays I’ve ever had. I spent most of my time perusing the Christmas markets, drinking glühwein (spiced, mulled wine), hanging out with friends, and eating scrumptious German Christmas goods.
I missed my family…but the money stress, the fear of weight gain, the endless social gatherings? Not so much.
Here are some tips for spending your first Christmas abroad.
Skype is your best friend
I HATE talking on the phone, but Skype was a godsend for keeping in touch with my family while I was in Berlin. Being able to talk to everyone while opening Christmas presents on Christmas morning was really special. I did get quite homesick at some points, but it also felt like I was right there, sitting between bickering relatives wishing I had more spiked eggnog.
I talked to my parents a lot over Skype during the holidays. Mom even got my cat Bella involved. (And she waved a plate of bacon around in front of the camera, just to tease me. Meanie.)
Immerse yourself in Christmas culture
If you’re in a country where Christmas is actually celebrated, find things to do that you’ll actually love. The Christmas markets were my thing. I went all over Berlin sampling the different markets — everything from Japanese to Nordic (I don’t really know what a Japanese market has to do with Christmas either, but hey). I LOVED the social atmosphere.
Standing under twinkling lights with hands wrapped around a warm glass of wine is way more magical than meeting Santa Claus.
So, I didn’t avoid it altogether. I just found other things I enjoyed doing.
Look for expat meet-ups via Facebook or Meetup.com
I joined a number of expat groups when I moved to Berlin, including Girl Gone International and Canadian Expats in Berlin. They regularly host events, and I’ve met some of my dearest friends that way.
I met my friend TJ through one such group, and he invited me to a comedy show on Christmas Day. I invited along another friend I had met through the GGI group, and the unlikely trio of us instantly became BFFs. The comedy show was a blast — it was filled with expats and visitors, and our rowdy table of three quickly grew to encompass even the comedians. A random girl from NYC joined our table and together we stole the dessert from a nearby Danish guy. It was one of the most enjoyable Christmas Days I’ve ever had.
Couchsurfing.org also arranges holiday meet-ups for expats and travellers. The comedy club was full of ‘em.
Treat yourself to some travel
If I were truly trying to escape Christmas, i’d likely hop on a flight and head somewhere south of Berlin — perhaps Morocco, or somewhere where the holidays don’t exist.
It’s easy to ignore your friends and family having all kinds of fun without you when you’re sunbathing on a beach or riding a camel through a desert, amiright?
Give everyone your mailing address
It’s unlikely your friends and family won’t mind sending you a Christmas card from home. (If they do, they suck. You need new friends.)
Every time a Christmas card arrived in my mailbox, I was beside myself with happiness. Just the simple gesture of sending me something all the way from Canada really brightened my day, and made me realize how blessed I am to have so many amazing people in my life. Nobody’s going to forget about you if you’re gone for a year!