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Expat Articles » Do You Opt for a Traditional or Multicultural Christmas Away From Home?


You may be one of many expats who do not have the opportunity to travel home during the Christmas holidays. But with a little creativity, celebrating Christmas in your host country can be a very memorable occasion. The key is to plan ahead so you can connect with home in a way that is familiar to you. Or for the more adventurous, follow the Christmas traditions in your host country and be surprised about how much you can learn about your new culture. Better still, do both: a traditional Christmas and a “new” one. Or have the ultimate Christmas abroad: incorporate familiar aspects with new “traditions” into an adventurous multicultural Christmas.

Decision Making Time
Because of its traditions and the feelings that go with it, it is very important to involve everyone in the decision making of how you will spend your Christmas abroad. And remember that “who with” is even more important than “how”. Christmas is all about sharing so it would be great to involve your partner and children in the planning as well. If you are overseas by yourself, try and find some like-minded people that you can share Christmas with and conjure up a plan together. But first let’s see what kind of Christmas you fancy this year!
Christmas Abroad
Ask yourself what Christmas traditions have been important to you the previous years? Was it the church service? Cooking food? Decorating the Christmas tree and house with glitter and lights? Singing Christmas carols or watching certain movies together? Or was it the pre-Christmas fun of finding exactly the right present for your loved ones? And then watch their excited faces!

My personal memory is that I really enjoyed watching ‘A Christmas Carol’ with Ebenezer Scrooge who changed his heart towards less fortunate people. Although I have “grown out of it” now, I still remember being totally focused on watching this story unfold year after year. And, writing about it now, has just given me the idea of re-instating this tradition this Christmas! What is your favourite memory?

Connecting with Home
While the above suggestions will help to create a wonderful Christmas, there is no better way than seeing your loved ones face to face. So try to invite family or friends to celebrate Christmas with you in your new country. Alternatively, you can use social media (webcam) and set a time to unwrap the Christmas presents that you’ve mailed to each other. Wouldn’t it be great if (grand) parents can watch their (grand) children’s faces while they open their presents and share in the excitement?

Your New Culture's Christmas
And then of course you may have been invited to share Christmas with a colleague or friend in your host country. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the new culture and its traditions. There are just a few things that you may want to think about ahead of time. Just remember that the way Christmas is celebrated abroad can be quite different to what you’re used to.

For example, to me it felt really weird to celebrate Christmas ‘down-under’ during the New Zealand summer and under quite warm conditions. And yes, many families have a Christmas picnic or BBQ on the beach. But be prepared to have a “second” Christmas half-way through the year, around July, when people feel more inclined to have a heavy Christmas dinner. I was absolutely amazed to see mid-winter Christmas advertised all over the place, including the lights.

What I’m saying is: be open-minded about the kind of Christmas you will get. If you accept your “overseas” Christmas lunch/dinner invitation then you must be prepared to let go of your own traditions. Alternatively you may choose to discuss your expectations with your host family so the most important Christmas traditions are respected and fulfilled. And if you are a local family inviting expats to share Christmas in your home then it is a nice gesture to ask them if there are any traditions that they would like to observe.  That way you can learn other ways to celebrate Christmas and make it a multicultural event.

The True "Spirit of Christmas"
Regardless of how you choose to celebrate Christmas, in the end it is all about giving and sharing. And even if you are not able to spend Christmas in your home country with your loved ones, you are still able to send cards or small gifts or call them on the day. Or dare to celebrate a “local” Christmas and let “new” Christmas traditions become yours in years to come. Merry Christmas!

About the author:

Ellen Scholten - International Life & Career Coach - is dedicated to support internationals who wish to set and stretch their personal boundaries, broaden their horizons and achieve their self-defined goals.  She has crossed many borders either to travel, live, work or study (MCM, Lincoln University, NZ) in other countries. During her expat years in France, England, Scotland and New Zealand, Ellen has faced many challenges and overcome a few setbacks. She can relate well to people of different cultures and especially expats because she has experienced many of their challenges first hand. She is all about practicality and her approach is very down-to-earth and solution focused. Ellen has post-graduate qualifications in coaching and counselling (Europees Instituut/De Baak) and is a certified NLP Practitioner. She has worked as an HR advisor in both profit and non-profit organisations. You can reach her at:, by phone 0031 (0)6 46018139 or by email at info [at]

©Ellen Scholten 2010.