December in Minnesota is beautiful – still subject to frigid sub-zero temps and blistery winds, but aesthetically speaking…beautiful. I’m not biased, either. I grew up in North Carolina where we were barely blessed with a sprinkling of snow on Christmas Day. Somehow, a blue Christmas just never excited me.
But December in Minnesota is when the child inside of me begins to stir. The snow has just begun to cover the soil in a soft white blanket and the trees – mysteriously barren, their branches snaking across the dark horizon – are now covered in glistening icicles. Inside, stockings hang above the fireplace, the communal meeting point where each family sits and makes conversation over a steamy mug of hot chocolate. You know, like the song, “Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful?”
And while the aesthetics of my Midwestern home are beautiful during these winter months, “Minnesota Nice” also comes out in full effect during this time. Permanent smiles are plastered across the faces of everyone you meet and Christmas parties, Secret Santa’s, and random acts of kindness abound. Its truly the time of giving.
So this year marks my first Christmas away from home – 24 years of spending Christmas with my parents, brothers, and now niece and nephew…has suddenly been taken away from me. There is certainly no snow here in Mumbai, not even a gentle breeze that reminds me of home (unless of course, I want to blast the AC in my room at night.)
By this point I don’t really get homesick – just nostalgic for bits and pieces of home. But this year it hit me as I stood outside at a Christmas event in Mumbai. As I looked to my right, I saw two lonely palm trees. On my left, waves crashing down upon the crowds of people who swarm Juhu Beach. A sparse, miniature Christmas tree stood in the center of a large grassy space. The only white I saw was from the small paper snowflakes that were taped to the glass of the building.
For the first time in months, my heart panged for Minnesota – my heart panged for my childhood. For the first time in 24 years, I felt like an adult.
Now that wasn’t such a fun thing to feel around Christmas time. But like many other holidays I’ve spent away from home – Easter, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving – I knew I could manage and find a way out of the sadness.
But sadness is just an emotion, right? I’m sure many of us feel it at different points during our travels, but it is important to remember that it is only a temporary feeling. And feelings can be changed. So to help change any holiday blues you may be feeling, I rounded up a list of six different things to do around Christmas time in your city.
Take a mini vacation
If you’re someone who can’t stand the thought of attempting a normal holiday when “home” is thousands of miles away, then why not get out of town for a few days? For expats like me, this option is ideal. What I like to do for these mini vacations is type “anywhere” into Skyscanner’s search tool. If you have never used this, there will likely be plenty of flight options under $100 round trip! For those of you who are looking for a more daring Christmas adventure, check out local trains and buses to get even cheaper deals. Though its safe to say a lot of other people may also have the same idea – so book well in advance.
Get out on Christmas Eve
Nobody wants to spend the night before Christmas alone, right? Depending on where in the world you are, there are likely plenty of options for parties and/or Christmas balls. A couple of years ago I joined an online group called Internations, which brings together expats from all over the world inside of their local communities. They host weekly events – from business and networking to culture and entertainment – and Christmas Eve is certainly no exception. The next morning, grab of crowd of friends and meander out to a hot brunch spot. Peach Bellinis can’t just be my Christmas tradition!
Immerse yourself in local Christmas traditions
Forget about the traditions you left behind at home – you’re in a new country now! And so many countries across the world have their own unique customs for you to learn about. If you happen to be somewhere in Europe, chances are that there is a Christmas market or two in your area. When my parents came to visit me in Florence in December they were mesmerized by the beauty and abundance inside of these markets. There you can find any and everything – from decorations for the tree, to candles, sweet Christmas treats – as you make your way through the white canopied stalls.
But Christmas isn’t limited to only the predominantly Christian countries – its celebrated in it’s own way all across the world! In Japan, for example, they celebrate Christmas Day with fried chicken and a sweet strawberry sponge cake. Here it is mostly an occasion for young people, who receive gifts from “Hotei-osho,” a Buddhist monk who serves as the Japanese equivalent of Santa Clause.
Spend time with your family away from home
Traveling with friends? Or have you made a few friends in your new home? Either way, round up the group and set up your own fun! This past Thanksgiving a girlfriend of mine from Wisconsin invited me over to her company party. It was an eclectic group of people – both expats and locals – so not only did we have an interesting mix of holiday food (mashed potatoes and samosas?) but great conversation amongst different types of people. A few of the locals had never experienced a traditional Thanksgiving – but for us Americans, it was quite fun to explain the traditions and types of food we use to celebrate!
Use the day for introspection
Holidays are a great time to spend time with the most important person in your life – yourself. Especially on Christmas Day, the birth of Jesus Christ, it is essential to remember that our selves should not be defined by externalities. Introspection gives us the opportunity to sit back and examine our own thoughts, feelings, and sensations in order to gain insight. To start off, create a quiet space in your room, light some candles, burn incense and sit down on the floor (or any comfortable space, really.) Ask yourself deep, open-ended questions and reflect on your answers. Start off with questions like “What sets my soul on fire?” and “What are my deepest values?” and see where that gets you.
Remember that Christmas isn’t just about spending time with family and friends – this is the time of year that charities are looking for thousands of volunteers to help them support the most vulnerable. Find a local soup kitchen, nursing home, or do a quick Google search on charities in your area. Many foodbanks will be looking for volunteers to help with packing and transportation as well. When you push aside the materialism of Christmas (gifts and an abundance of food,) the warm fuzzies of giving back will start to kick in.
About The Author
Meghan is a Mumbai-based model/writer with a penchant for satire and a soft spot for local cuisine. Preferably something spicy. When she’s not hitting the streets on the way to her next casting, you can find her sniffing out Mumbai’s most promising eateries and music venues.