Dr. Nicola McCaffrey

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The Ex-Pat Christmas Story

This month, which closes out the year with Christmas and New Year's Eve, begins with the Oscar worthy John Lewis Christmas advert and a few renditions of Slade on the morning radio shows. Or at least it used to. Now for me here in Norway it usually begins with a syrupy red Julebrus bottle, which I spy making its way to supermarket shelves sometimes months before the first bell has been jingled. 

Whether you long for mince pies, roast turkey, or pantomimes, festive nostalgia can be a very powerful thing. This is particularly true when you are an ex-pat spending the holiday season abroad. Wherever you are in the world over the holidays many of us share in the tradition of feeling stressed, depressed and alone. For expats in particular the levels of stress we experiences is often related to whether we are travelling to our country of origin, spending the holidays somewhere else entirely or staying put in our host country. Whilst spending Christmas away from our families can be challenge, it also offers a huge range of possibilities from learning to celebrate in new ways to expanding our festive menus.

If you find yourself being in another country to celebrate this year try to accept and embrace the different traditions, decorations and tastes available to you. It is normal to feel sad and even lonely at times when you are unable to surround yourself with your family and familiar traditions.  Acknowledge these feelings and express them. It might also be helpful to find, and reach out to, other sources of connection and support. Are there other expats you know that are also in the same situation? Most importantly don’t abandon the healthy habits that you have built up over the rest of the year. Overindulgence and overspending only add to our sense of guilt and anxiety. Stick to your healthy routines and habits, and remember exercise is the gift that keeps on giving. Those endorphins will see you on a high all the way through to the New Year! 

As a British expat living in Norway my experience of Christmas is similar to my experience of expat life more generally: a mix of wonder and excitement at the new, and nostalgia for the familiar.  But being someone who enjoys new experiences, I find it fascinating to watch these different worlds unfold and interact.

Happy holidays everyone!