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Posted by on Dec 17, 2012 in Blog, Expat Life | 7 comments

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

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?




  1. I am a total holiday scrooge, so I don’t miss Christmas or the snow in Chicago too much. For me, surviving during this time of year hass always been about new traditions – I have an annual cookie exchange with my American girlfriends, stock up on carsd while at home to be able to send, and always go see the lights around town. I’m lucky that my family is full of teachers, and we nearly always get together during Christmas in some part of the world!
    Cat of Sunshine and Siestas recently posted…Seville Snapshot: Bodega Marqués de Riscal in Eltziego (País Vasco)My Profile

  2. Totally agree with everything here! In my experience Skyping through presents has been great, I almost feel like I’m there and can see my niece’s reactions. I’ve been known to shed tears xmas morning, but as long as I’m with loved ones I can get over it quickly!
    Lauren recently posted…Top 5 Spanish Christmas SweetsMy Profile

    • Haha, awwww, I’m a crier too–don’t worry!

  3. Luckily I’ve not had to spend any Christmases away from home — I’m the opposite of a holiday scrooge, so I love being at home.

    I wouldn’t say no to some Spanish sweets, though, especially turrones!

  4. great guide! I love spending Christmas abroad

    • I do too, though I’m ready to celebrate at home!


  1. Photos: Christmas Lights in Santander, Spain - Christine in Spain | Christine in Spain - [...] too!) and who is found gleefully decorating my house like an elf straight out of the North Pole. Christmas in ...

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