5 Tips for Anyone Spending Christmas Away from Home
It's the time of year that we are all, for better or worse, affected by the festive season. Decorated Christmas trees battle to catch our attention on the streets, in offices and shopping centres, often only to remind us of the coming tasks that we need to sort out - cards, presents, food, travel - rather than Christmas joy itself.
At my private practice it is difficult not to be aware of my clients' rising anxiety about the coming Christmas. I keep wondering to myself about how much pressure Britain seems to be under to produce this amazing Christmas day.
For those of us from overseas who are spending Christmas away from our homes, it is worth taking a step back and trying to understand what Christmas means to indigenous Brits. At first, it isn't clear why, in what appears to be a secular rather than Christian culture, so much effort goes into celebrating the birth of Christ. The answers, so far as I can glean from my British friends and clients, seem to be part intergenerational habit, part national mid–winter holiday. Because Christmas for Brits is so focused around children, when their kids grow up, they invest the same rituals in their own children, and so on. Of course there are changes over time, but many of the traditions are timeless. Christians will go to church, but so will many secular Brits. It is the one time of the year that Brits get together as families, and also the one day the whole country closes down.
So what about the many of us who will be spending Christmas alone or away from home countries and our loved ones?
While many British clients become stressed and frustrated over Christmas day, my clients who for one reason or another will be spending Christmas day away from their home countries and families share my own feelings of nostalgia.
Some of my clients feel strangely liberated to be able to escape all the hassle, some desperately try to fill an imposed gap with something meaningful for them, making them feel less alone and estranged in Britain.
Having been in London for 16 years, this is the time when I feel most homesick. There were times when I celebrated Christmas on my own and treated it as another bank holiday in my pyjamas; other times when I decided to connect with people, inviting them over or accepting invitations and embracing this special time of year in this special place.
So, I would like to suggest few tips for the people who are spending Christmas away from home:
1. Let the expectations go
Don't let the image of what a Christmas “should” be dictate your feelings. This time of year is filled with melancholic movies and jolly advertisements that give us all sorts of expectations. Focus on what this season really is for you. Is it about partying and presents or love and gratitude or just a mid-winter break?
One way to rekindle your Christmas spirit is by spending time with people who are less fortunate than you. There are many opportunities to volunteer and be with other people on Christmas day. Google “volunteer at xmas" and you will find a variety of ways to be of service. National charities like Crisis for homeless people or TimeBank have many opportunities for you to give your time to someone who will cherish it.
3. Call your family
It's easy to start spiralling into believing you are really alone when you are not surrounded by the usual company of family or friends from home. It is important to remember that while you may not be physically with them, you are far from being alone. Technology like Skype or FaceTime is available for you to connect with your loved ones.
“Opening Skype, I show my family my own Christmas table and decorations, unopened presents from them (maybe my mum's home-made jam or dad's marinated gherkins), to feel that I am little bit closer to home. We all open exchanged presents at the same time and I have an opportunity to see the reaction on their faces opening my presents from England.” Agnete from Latvia
4. Don't be shy
Tell your friends you are homesick. I can recall times when people found out I was alone for Christmas their first reaction was: “Why didn't you tell me?! You could have spent Christmas with my family”.
I have found that people are quite open and genuine with invitations this time of year. Not only is it in the spirit of Christmas, but some people love the idea of having a friend as a “buffer" at family gatherings! Of course, it may not be the same as being with your family but the opportunity to experience a traditional celebration in another country can give you wonderful memories.
Another way of making the most of Christmas is to connect with people who are in the same situation as you. This can be “shared misery” but also it can bring out so much fun.
“We all make a traditional dish for Christmas dinner and watch international films. It is a kind of bizarre bond that we will share.” Brazilian student Letitia, who spends Christmas with Spanish speaking people.
5. Take care of yourself
If you have decided to spend this time of year on your own, I only can encourage you to make the most of it and do things that have some special meaning for you and make you happy.
If this is a day to spend in your pyjamas and open a bottle champagne for breakfast, let it be! Choose to watch a good film, cook a nice meal, or simply curl up with a good book.
Decorate your own Christmas tree, or if you don't like decorations, nice scented candles will create that cosy atmosphere.
You could even go out and take photos of empty city streets, which only happens once a year in Britain. Imagine that empty Oxford Street in London.
Importantly, don't assume everyone else is having better time. If you find yourself thinking that, make a list of everything good about being on your own - from having control of the TV remote to eating whatever you want. You might well be having the best time of all!
It's true that there's no place like home. But there's no place like where you are right now either. You can still fill yourself with the same feelings of love, friendship and compassion that are at the core of the Christmas season.
Wishing you all happy and peaceful Christmas.