Where should you spend your first Christmas after emigrating? It’s a question that we debated, and one that I know others do too. There’s a longing for ‘home’ and the familiar, plus, of course, a wanting to be with those we love. However, there may also be a feeling that you should stay in your new home and experience the season there. That perhaps going back is copping out.
We went through all of those thoughts when deciding what to do. Were we prolonging the process of settling into our chosen country if we went back? Would we spend Christmas wishing we had come back if we didn’t? We didn’t know.
When some friends emigrated to France some years ago, they decided against coming back that first year. They regretted it, saying that Christmas that year was lonely and miserable. Despite have been there for around six months by then, they had not yet developed enough of a social network to be able to spend time with others. Since then, they have returned to the UK every year for the festive season although they now have many friends in France.
For those more established ex-pats, in Crete at least, it seems to be a fairly even split between those who remain in Crete, and those who return to their home country at Christmas. Many of those that remain in Crete have family there, usually their partner’s. If they don’t have family there, many have friends or family visit them from other countries. It seems that even when remaining, spending time with loved ones is an important factor.
Staying at home
What if you decide not to return to your home country for Christmas? Or if you are unable to due to work or financial reasons, or because of other commitments? When couples get married or have children, people often advise them to start their own traditions. Your first Christmas away is a perfect time to do the same.
If you’re worried about being bored or lonely, find out about local customs, the things that you don’t get to see when you’re a tourist. In Greece, people often go to a late church service on Christmas Eve, then break their Advent Fast with a large, late meal. Children go carol singing. Families play board or card games. Many people will go to restaurants, bars, music clubs, or hotels with live acts. Christmas Day will involve another large meal.
If you have young children, a late night might not be possible. I know families who have Christmas Eve packs, usually containing pyjamas, a Christmas film, and hot chocolate for an evening snuggled on the sofa. Maybe there should be new stockings to go with the new home. Alternatively take an evening walk to admire the Christmas lights.
On the day, kids will usually be too busy playing with their new presents to feel too homesick. However, using Skype or FaceTime to let grandparents watch the kids open their present may help keep some semblance of their familiar Christmas Day, and help you feel less distant.
Some people – like me – start to feel fed up if they’re indoors all day. A surprisingly large area of Greece gets snow on the hills, so you could actually celebrate a white Christmas while in the Mediterranean! If the local cafes are open take a wander into the centre of your local village or town to break up the day, or a stroll on the walk on the beach could blow away some cobwebs.
After much deliberation, we chose to return to the UK, and we’re glad we did. Living in a different culture, however friendly, however much you have researched, can wear you down after a while. Spending time with family and catching up with friends has recharged our batteries somewhat. We’re returning home with a renewed mindset and enthusiasm for our new life.