I ALMOST made it home for Christmas. I found a cheap round-trip flight from Berlin for about 500EUR. But then I hemmed and hawed about it for too long, and lost the ticket entirely.
Some traveller I am.
In hindsight, it’s okay. That money will go to good use in Italy and Spain in 2016. And Denmark. And Poland. And, and, and…
The biggest challenge so far about living abroad is not seeing my friends and family for an entire year. I’ve insisted to my parents that Newfoundland isn’t even all that far away — a mere 10-hours of travel. (It took just as long for my friend Coady to get from Alberta to Nova Scotia this year.) But they don’t believe me.
It’s something I’ve had to learn to take in stride, this long absence. I doubt I’ll be an expat again after this year is up. Not because I don’t love it, just because I’m intricately tied to Newfoundland.
So, live in the moment, right? #YOLO
So here’s how I ended up surviving a first Christmas abroad.
I didn’t avoid Christmas
I mentioned in my last post how I was skeptical about Christmas markets, despite all the hype. And then I got a true taste of Christmas market spirit, with lots of gluhwein and holiday cheer and sometimes even bizarre ballerina shows with a touch of a madness.
For the first time in a long time, I experienced something like warm fuzzy feelings of Christmas cheer and love.
(It could’ve been indigestion.)
I watched the old classics — Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Christmas With the Kranks.
I sent out dozen of Christmas cards, and received plenty in return. People from home wrote me the most beautiful notes inside. Most of them made me cry.
But despite brief bouts of homesickness, I actually had a lot of fun.
Skype became my best friend
Skype has only recently been introduced to my parents. It’s basically the best thing that’s ever happened to us.
It wasn’t quite the same as sitting in the living room with my parents and my brother on Christmas morning. But I Skyped with them while they were unwrapping all their presents, and hey, if anyone started bickering, I could hit “mute”! Win, win.
(Just kidding. That didn’t happen.)
Mom even bought me a scratch ticket and scratched it via video for me. I didn’t win anything.
We Skyped several times over the week, especially when I was feeling homesick. I did get emotional a few times, like when I saw the Christmas tree all lit up and I realized how much I missed sitting around that living room with my family and a good book and a cup of tea. Or beer.
But hey. It’s just one year.
I enjoyed a no-obligations holiday
Most of my Berlin friends are also expats, and so they went home to their families and I didn’t see them much either.
I’ve NEVER had a Christmas holiday where I wasn’t overwhelmed with visiting relatives and friends. I burn out quickly.
And then there’s always that casual chatter you have with friends about not buying each other gifts this year because everyone’s broke, but then somehow you still end up with a dozen really beautiful presents and a bucketload of guilt about not reciprocating (because you weren’t joking about being broke).
I hung out with friends here and there, but no presents were exchanged. We just enjoyed each other’s company. My friend Eline did get me a potted plant though, and she wrote me a poem, as is a Dutch tradition. Being my only gift, it made me deliriously happy.
I never fully understood why people stress themselves to the max at Christmas. I remember the tired moms and panicked last-minute shoppers at Hallmark.
I spent Christmas Eve with some lovely friends
Christmas Eve was exciting. I made Mom’s famous rocky road cookies and some salad and went to a potluck with some other travel bloggers and expat friends.
Our little group consisted of two Canadians, an American, a Brit, a German, and a Costa Rican. We had a lovely array of foods — chicken with Swiss Chalet sauce (special delivery from Canada), stuffing, salads, marinated green beans, cookies, cake, and wine. Lots of wine.
Then we stayed up until 3 AM playing Cards Against Humanity. Playing offensive games on the birthday of Jesus Christ somehow seems to fit the expat theme.
I spent Christmas Day with new friends
Christmas Day was a total unexpected delight.
My friend TJ (whom I had only met that previous Monday) sent me an invite to an expat dinner and open mic session at a bar named Lagari, in Neukolln. I invited my friend Melanie (whom I had only met on one occasion two weeks before) and so we all showed up for a three-course turkey dinner at just 10EUR.
I mean, what’s Christmas for if not bringing people together, even if you hardly know them?
It was clear that most attendees were expat loners like us. A New Yorker named Stephanie approached us, asking if she could sit with us so she didn’t have to eat at the bar alone. Instead of visiting her family in California, she had jumped at a chance of a free ticket to Europe via her friend. She was outgoing and friendly, and before we knew it, other people (including comedians) were flocking to our table.
The bar ran out of food. Stephanie and TJ dipped pork belly into bowls of gravy. A Danish man at the next table shared his dessert with us. Then there was a Christmas gift exchange.
I can’t remember the last time I ever laughed so hard. We were Brits, Canadians, French, Americans, Welshmen, Portuguese, Chilean, and more. There were rounds of tequila (my absolute downfall) and we didn’t make it home until 6 AM.
So my first Christmas abroad wasn’t really a Christmas by usual standards, I suppose. But, I figure, it’s one I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.