Not Home for the Holidays?

…make the best of it with these tips

Take it from me. Your first holiday away from home will likely be pretty tough. While living in Japan for several years, I couldn’t help but miss out on some important events: weddings, new babies, and… Christmas.

With music and decorations popping up everywhere, it’s hard to ignore the holiday season that is now upon us. And being away from friends and family during times like these—even if Christmas is not one of your traditions—can mean feeling a little lonely, or completely homesick. Having been there… and done that… I don’t recommend it. When I couldn’t make it home for the holidays, I made sure to find a few things that brought the spirit of the season to me.

Here are five ways to make the most of your holidays away from home.


1. Make your own family. You know what they say: Family is what you make it. When you’re this far away from home, this old saying really comes in handy. Look around you. Who are the important people in your life right now, in this place? Whether your host family, co-workers, or classmates—start planning some “family” events during the holidays to avoid feeling lonely.

I’ll never forget when one of my Japanese students invited me into her home for a turkey dinner one cold December evening. As I sat at the table, enjoying the food and the company (my student, her husband, and their three little boys), I couldn’t help but feel like I was part of the family.

2. Share your traditions. If you are missing home, the best thing to do is to share a piece of home with those around you—whether a meal, a custom, a decoration, or a song. Suggest an international potluck with friends, teach your classmates a favourite tradition, or decorate your room with traditional colours or trinkets. You’ll feel that much better, I promise.

After three failed attempts at making eggnog (3 x 25 minutes of stirring = ouch!) that looked more like chunky eggs than something creamy and sippable, I finally got it! Not only did the smell and taste fill me with feelings of home, it was a lot of fun sharing a festive drink with the locals.

3. Get crafty with holiday cards. Creating art can be therapeutic. So get in touch with the right side of your brain and set your creative spirit free! A great way to be artistic during the season is to make holiday cards for loved ones back home. Include photos, drawings, and practice your English while you’re at it! The best part: You can save a little bit of money while enjoying some alone time.

My friends and family really enjoyed the holiday cards I made during my first year away from home. Not only could they catch a glimpse of my home away from home, but it was a little reminder that I was still thinking of them—even though I was off having one of the greatest adventures of my life!

4. Pay it forward. Did you know that doing something kind for someone when you’re feeling down can bring your spirits up? Consider buying a coffee for a person living on the street, helping your classmate with their homework, doing the dishes for your homestay parents, or donating to a charity! It will definitely fill you with the giving spirit of the season.

A friend and I headed to Thailand for our first holiday away from snow. I knew we’d end up dreaming of a white Christmas, so I planned a surprise to keep our blues away. On December 25, a small gift from “Santa” appeared on each of our pillows—my friend was delighted (and so was I)!

5. Celebrate, Canadian style! Canada is a country that celebrates difference. Whatever your background, language, or religion, you can still find joy in the holiday season. Gift giving, acts of kindness, and feasts with friends are yours to enjoy no matter what your beliefs happen to be!

Some of my best memories in Japan include festivals or celebrations that were Shinto or Buddhist in nature. Although I don’t practice any particular religion, I was intrigued to learn about ancient customs and I jumped at the opportunity to take part in my host country’s traditions.

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