Image courtesy of Jeff Attaway

This time last year, I promised myself I’d spend next Christmas with my family. But then life intervened: there was a major business upheaval, three months spent in retreat, a wedding, a move to Senegal. We prioritized saving money and having a bit of geographical stability over spending the holidays with family. Before the holiday weekend hit, it seemed like a good idea.

I will also mention that my aid worker parents are based in South America right now, which is a bit far from Senegal. So, I have an excuse.

If you’re reading this, you probably have good reasons not to be at home right now too.

Reading the Facebook posts of my friends who are with their parents and siblings right now gives me a dull ache in my chest. So does knowing that I’ll be missed as my sister and parents and parents-in-law celebrate in their corners of the world. It’s been years since we’ve spent Christmas together, and I miss it.

Next year, I’ll remember this feeling better and make an effort to be face-to-face with my parents. This year, I have some strategies to feel less of an orphan expat for the holidays:

1. Reach out.

I just posted my own Facebook message that said, “Around Dakar for the holidays? Let me know and let’s meet up to celebrate!” I have no idea who I’ll find, but making the effort to reach out to others reminds me I’m not actually alone or orphaned. And I don’t need to feel sorry for myself.

2. Make a party of two–or three, or whatever.

This is the first Christmas my husband and I are spending together, which is wonderful and special and worth celebrating thoroughly. It doesn’t take a full house to have a party.

3. What makes the holidays special for you?

For me, it’s oysters on Christmas Eve, which I can get fresh and for $3 a dozen just across the water. It’s also having some kind of sock hanging up with something in it on Christmas morning and a Christmas late lunch that includes roasted meat and lots of wine.

Everyone has their different holidays traditions. What’s one that you can do where you are, on short notice? Go for it–and tell your family about it when you call.

4. Skype.

Face-to-face video conferencing is a great way to make the distance go away. If you have the bandwidth, I recommend Skype Premium for video calling with three accounts or more, since only two-account video calls are free. It’s worth the small annual fee, especially if you schedule weekly conference calls where all the people in your family can talk at the same time (sometimes, literally), like I do.

For those of us with slow Internet connections that can’t even support normal Skype, the old-fashioned phone line will do.

5. Treat yourself.

In the end, the holidays are about celebrating. Find someplace nice and cheesy, if you like, to get your tinsel on. Splurge on a ridiculously-overpriced holiday hotel buffet. Get one of your friends to dress up like Santa and take photos. Whatever you do, do something special.

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