An Expat’s Guide to Surviving (and Enjoying!) the Holidays Abroad

The town hall in Santander

The town hall in Santander

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a song absolutely off-limits this time of the year–as soon as Bing Crosby sings the line “if only in my dreams” I’ll be wanting to weep into a plate of turrón and polvorones. Since I’ve been home for only one Christmas out of the last four (including this year’s) I’ve had to learn how to pull myself out of the homesickness that’s especially pronounced during the holiday season and make the very best of it. I’ve learned not only how to survive the holidays abroad, but to appreciate the differences in how Christmas is celebrated in Spain and in my home country–even though there’s no place like home for the holidays!

Embrace New Traditions

Roscón de Los Reyes--eaten every 3 King's Day

Roscón de Los Reyes–eaten every 3 King’s Day

The most important thing an expat can do is to try to embrace what your adopted country does during the holidays. While Spain doesn’t do Ugly Christmas Sweater parties, and Basque Country has its own version of Santa, instead of complaining about the lack of American traditions celebrated here, I’ve joined in on the Spanish ones. Keeping an open mind has allowed me the opportunity to join in on many a holiday lunch (hours-long with several courses!), eagerly buy a Roscón de Los Reyes and hope to not bite on a miniature baby Jesus, and gorge on Christmas Day seafood feasts instead of my mom’s incredible home cooking.

Though it’s not the same, it shouldn’t be! You’re in a different country, and the sooner you accept the differences, the sooner you’ll be enjoying yourself.

Share Traditions From Your Home With Others

My DIY Christmas Wreath

My DIY Christmas Wreath

Holiday baking and decorating are my Christmas in Spain nonnegotiables. I don’t care if I’m in Spain, where home decor is definitely more subdued–I’m going all-out. They may not hang stockings here, but I do! And even though it seems more common to buy pastelería-bought sweets, I’m dedicating a few days to a holiday bake fest in the kitchen. This is a great opportunity to share your holiday traditions with Spaniards, whatever they may be!

Go To As Many Holiday Events As Possible

Christmas ornaments

Christmas ornaments

A great way to get into the holiday spirit here is to find activities in your nearest city and attend them! You’ll find Christmas markets, elaborate light displays and likely something you’d never find back home.

On The Day-Of, Skype With Family

Spanish Turrónes

Spanish Turrónes

Carve out some time during the actual day of the holiday to catch up with friends and family via Skype. Watching them open presents together is about as close as you can get to the real thing–and be sure to wait to open their gifts until your Skype date!

While you should allow yourself to feel homesick, don’t let it interfere with you enjoying the holidays abroad to the fullest! Along the way, you’ll surely find new traditions you love to incorporate in your new, multi-cultural life.

How do you survive the holidays abroad?



Big News! I’m Moving!



I’ve always embraced change. When I had to start over at a new school in 6th grade, I wasn’t hung up on the fact I’d be leaving my friends—I was more excited at the thought of meeting new people. When I had to choose where to go to university, I chose to move to the midwest and leave the west coast behind (which turned out to be a decision that didn’t fit, and I gladly moved back to Seattle 2 years later!) Instead of staying in Seattle and starting a career—I decided to move across the world. And now that I’ve decided to stay awhile in Spain, it’s time for me to embrace change again— I’m moving to País Vasco!

Though I’ll miss many things about the south, I couldn’t be more thrilled at this opportunity to start over in a different part of Spain. I’ve seen a lot of friends come and go over the years in my little corner of this country, and I can’t believe it’s finally ‘my turn’ to do the same!

I’ve tried to keep this blog a positive space, so I never got in to too much detail about my current city—because saying anything positive about it was seriously tough! Blogging has been my outlet over the years while living in this less-than-ideal place. In a place that’s challenged me in absolutely every way. In a place where many times giving up my dream of living abroad in Spain seemed easier than toughing it out and enjoying the ride. But, I’m not ready to throw in the towel, and change is exactly what I need!

The north and south are two distinct parts of Spain, and I’m excited to bring new content to the blog while I delve into a new culture. Though I’ve written about the north in the past, I’ve barely scratched the surface and can’t wait to share my new adventures with you!

So while I may be trading in sunshine for more Seattle-esque weather, there will be no shortage of beautiful beaches, cute small towns and drool-worthy cuisine coming your way. I hope you’ll continue to follow along my journey!

The Expat Dilemma

I’ve fallen in love with Seattle hundreds of times. Every time the sun comes out after weeks of seemingly unending gray skies and drizzle, after I eat a great local meal, or can marvel at the city’s natural beauty from a new viewpoint, I’m reminded of why my home is so close to my heart.

Every trip back, I discover something new, rediscover old favorites, and yearn for a life that Spain can’t give me. What was once old and familiar is now new and exotic after years of living on the other side of the world.

That’s the expat dilemma—you’re always reminiscing of your life pre-expat, but know that if you were to ever move back, that you’d miss so many things from your adopted country too.

So, during a recent visit to Seattle neighborhood Ballard*, I realized while walking around I was so focused on how I had to leave soon and would miss everything, that I wasn’t enjoying the moment. I chose then and there to remain thankful for the things both Spain and Seattle have given me, and soak up as much as my rainy city as I could before boarding that plane back.

What do you miss most from home?

*All photos are of Ballard, WA