How To Enjoy The Holidays When You're Far Away From Family

The holidays place immense pressure on us to spend and cherish time with our family. But many of us live far away from our families, while others may not be in contact with their families because the relationship is toxic. Maybe one or both parents have passed away. This guide is for all of you. Whether you’re choosing to spend the holidays far away from home or home doesn’t really exist for you anymore, it can always be created in new and unexpected places.

By Jaimee Marshall4 min read
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If you’re spending Christmas or New Year’s without your family, you’re not alone. A 2021 study found that 60% of Americans hadn’t spent the holidays with family in two years. I have spent the past three holiday seasons over 10,000 miles away from family, in another country. It hasn’t been as simple as hopping onto a plane to spend Christmas together, especially amid a pandemic that unexpectedly left me stuck in Australia. Here’s what I’ve learned over these past three years.

Distance Isn’t Everything – Communicate Virtually

Being physically apart doesn’t mean you need to be spiritually apart. If you have a good relationship with your family, but you can’t physically travel to be with them, then take advantage of the digital age. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned hug from your parents, but if you regularly video call, text, or message them, I can promise you that you’ll feel like they’re right next to you. In the past, if you didn’t make it to a Christmas dinner, that was it, you missed out on the experience. You wouldn’t be able to see anyone or know what was going on. You would need to send a Christmas card in the mail and wait for it to arrive.

Now, you have 50 different ways to communicate with everyone in attendance. You probably already saw several Instagram photos of the occasion, and you can instantly deliver e-cards to your loved ones. I try to video call my parents once a week, and when I speak to them, displayed across the familiar background of our living room, I feel like I’ve transcended space and time. It teleports me into the very same house. If you’re feeling homesick, ask your family to give you a walking tour of your house or to speak to the family dog that you haven’t gotten to pet in ages. These things can heal your aching heart and make you feel like you’re there with them. Keep your family updated on what’s going on in your life and ask them the same. You can stay in contact as often as you like without needing to physically be there. You can even have a virtual Christmas or New Year’s dinner. 

Keep Old Traditions Alive or Start New Ones

If you have old Christmas or New Year’s traditions that you cherish from home, there’s no reason to give them up just because you’re living in a new place. Traditions, by nature, are customs that are passed on and persevere through time. No matter how your surroundings change, traditions can survive if you keep them alive. A strange Christmas tradition we had in my family was to wait to get our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. 

No matter how your surroundings change, traditions can survive if you keep them alive.

Naturally, I only had a few hours to decorate it in time for Christmas Day, and I always thought this “tradition” was just an excuse for my parents’ poor time management until I learned it was a tradition that existed in my father’s family when he was a kid. Whether it’s going out and getting a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, or it’s making a specific treat that your family would make on Christmas Day, you can keep these traditions going and introduce them to the new loved ones in your life. By carrying an old tradition into your current life, you can feel a little closer to family and nourish your desire for nostalgia.

If you never had special family traditions, or it’s too painful to do them in their absence, then consider creating your own tradition. This can be something you keep for yourself or something you involve others in. Start a Secret Santa gift exchange with your friends, decide on your favorite Christmas movie and make that a Christmas Eve tradition, start sending Christmas cards in the mail, go to a Christmas market, or host your own Christmas party. The beauty in creating your own tradition is that there is no wrong answer.

Give Yourself Permission To Get into the Holiday Spirit

The holidays are supposed to be merry and bright. It’s okay to feel sad that you’re not with your family, but that doesn’t mean you need to feel perpetually guilty or depressed. If being far away from home is really eating away at you, take some time to grieve. You can write your feelings out in a journal, have a good cry, or watch a movie about being so, so alone. Then, move on! Once you’ve felt your feelings, you need to stop dwelling on what can’t be changed and allow yourself to feel happy. If it takes a little convincing to get you into the Christmas spirit, then set the scene by decorating your living space, baking your favorite treats, and attending fun holiday functions. Do all the little things you look forward to each year. 

Better yet, look into what the area you’re staying in has to offer that home doesn’t. Feel the excitement for new experiences. For me, the biggest adjustment in spending Christmas in Australia has been the flipped seasons. Growing up in Philadelphia, I took the cold and snow for granted. Of course, the second I go home, I’ll still hate it – but from afar, all I want is a dusting of snow on Christmas Day and the frigid air to fill the house so I can cuddle up by a fire with a cup of hot cocoa. But as I’m spending time dwelling on what I can’t have, I realize that I’m sacrificing the joy of now. How many people back home are rushing to book tropical trips over the holiday season just to escape the northeast winter? Here I am in a beautiful, sunny, tropical wonderland, and I’m dreaming about something I normally hate! Grieve the old, but embrace the new. Spending the holidays somewhere else is going to be different, and that’s okay. Variety is the spice of life, and there’s so much life to be lived.

Lean into Friends and Your Chosen Family

Just because you’re spending time away from your immediate family doesn’t mean you need to be alone during the holidays – unless you want to be! The holidays are meant to be spent with your family, and that includes your chosen family. Maybe your chosen family is your friends, your boyfriend, or your boyfriend’s family, or maybe you’re starting a family of your own. Family isn’t limited to our bloodline. The woman I have called “mom” for the past 20 years isn’t my biological mom, but a mom is what she’s been to me, nonetheless. I have spent the past few years with my boyfriend’s family, and they have taken me in as one of their own. This has made the holidays an incredibly joyful time, and I don’t spend any time wishing I were somewhere else, even though I still miss and love my family back home. 

Family isn’t limited to our bloodline. 

The way you choose to celebrate the holidays with different people may depend on where you land on the socialization scale. If you’re more introverted, a quiet night in with one or two friends or just your significant other watching Christmas movies on a low-key date night may be just what your soul needs. For extroverts, you might be jazzed to go to a proper Christmas party or want to go out on the town for New Year’s Eve. Those of you who fall somewhere in between like me will want a mix of both.

Feed the Soul

If you can’t go home, at least have a taste of home. Did your mom have a to-die-for recipe that she would make every year on Christmas that’s making you salivate just thinking about it? Recreate it! Or, at least, try to. Attempting to recreate nostalgic dishes and inevitably failing to replicate them is half the charm. It gives you something to look forward to and something to continually improve, even if it’s always just out of reach. If you do talk to your family, then ask them for a written recipe for your favorite dish. Put your own twist on a family classic. Make these treats for the new people in your life. 

Closing Thoughts

If you’re estranged from your family or don’t have much family left, you can find comfort in knowing that family can always be created. If you’re surrounded by a group of people who love and support you, then family is always with you. For those of you who wish you could be with your family but are stuck in a geographical Twilight Zone, I sympathize. Hopefully, these tips will give you some ideas on how to stay connected with loved ones despite any distance between you. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Time apart from family can make you appreciate all they have done for you and the time spent together that you may have taken for granted in the past.

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