Expat Home for the Holidays


By Dounia Bertuccelli

When you’re an expatriate, the holiday season can be a difficult time. The first Christmas can be the most trying, as you may still be settling into a foreign country, far away from family and friends. Growing up as a third culture kid (TCK), I spent Christmas all around the world. Sometimes we were in a winter wonderland, sometimes under tropical showers and other times we were even on the beach. But no matter where we were, Christmas was always joyful and festive. Wherever you may be, the holidays are the perfect occasion to make your new place feel like home.


The holiday season is a great time to finish putting away any unpacked boxes to make space for the Christmas decorations. Getting the house ready for Christmas and decorating the tree with my family always put us in the holiday spirit and helped us feel more at home. Each trinket, stocking or box we unpacked held a story and many memories. This is the perfect occasion to spend time together in your new home, so put on your favorite festive music, unpack the Christmas decorations and make it a family activity.

Holiday tip: If you’re missing sights and smells from back home, find ways to bring them to you – put up photos or buy scented candles with your favorite smells.


One of the best ways to feel more at home during the holidays is to continue family traditions. Now as an adult, I still follow many of our family traditions: I bake Christmas cookies each year, I still write my Christmas list (I even got my husband to join in on that tradition!) and we still choose a tree every year, bringing back many fond memories. Going the extra mile to fulfill a tradition can really help make the transition easier, especially if you have children. I may not be a parent yet, but when I was younger, those little things made a huge difference in making us feel a little bit more at home.

Holiday Tip: Celebrating the holidays the way you always have makes the unfamiliar seem less daunting and provides the comfort of continuity when so much has changed.


Instead of just trying to recreate the Christmas holiday, put your own special twist on it by adding new traditions. This could mean including local customs to your celebrations or it could simply be a newly created tradition, something unique to your festivities. Our family tree has decorations collected from all around the world and we’ve also added all sorts of little traditions along the way. We listen to Christmas songs in Spanish from our time in Mexico; we put chestnuts with our turkey from our time in France; my husband and I watch Love Actually every year during the holiday season.

Holiday Tip: They’re small, simple things but they help create special memories in the new home and form a closer relationship with that country – that’s what new traditions are all about.


As expats, we’re given the incredible opportunity to live in countries all over the world and the holiday season is a wonderful time to immerse yourself in local culture. In France, we strolled through the “marché de noëland visited beautiful nativity scenes in the town hall. In the U.S., we’ve attended a tree lighting ceremony and have gone to a caroling festival in a historic town, which allowed us to visit someplace new while enjoying the holiday celebrations.  Attending these festivities is a great way to get to know your new home and will help get you in the holiday mood.

Holiday Tip: It’s important to remember that every place you live is an opportunity to make your holidays more unique and special. See what festivities are happening in your area and enjoy the holiday cheer! 


This may seem obvious, but not everyone realizes how important staying in touch is. Although you may not be together physically, sharing the festivities helps you feel connected. I’ve read many stories of expats or TCKs who felt that their relatives were strangers because they didn’t spend the holidays together. I never felt this growing up as a TCK, because we made sure to stay in touch. Every year we would call our grandparents and cousins to wish them a merry Christmas, despite the different time zones. Sharing the joy of the holidays with family brings you closer, even if you are worlds apart. So no matter where you are for Christmas, don’t forget to share the holiday cheer with family and friends around the world.

Holiday Tip: We’re so lucky to have communication resources today that allow us to see our loved ones. Make sure to use them to share how the new house looks, and even decorate together, no matter the miles between you.

The holiday season is a time for celebration, whether you are in a familiar place or still settling into a new one. So make sure you find the time to call your loved ones during the holiday period and to decorate the house. Don’t forget the traditions you’ve grown up with but also create new ones that will make lasting memories. No matter where you are in the world, Christmas is the perfect time to make your new place home.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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