[Living Abroad] Christmas On The Other Side Of The World

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How is it December 2017?  O tempo está VOANDO! (Time is flying!)  This will be my fourth Christmas in Brazil.  And while I enjoy spending the holidays by the beach, it always feels a bit weird.  Being Canadian, I associate Christmas with cold, snow, family gatherings, and a full schedule of potlucks, parades and parties.  Being far away from loved ones it can be lonely(my first Christmas here there were a lot of tears) and I find it tricky to get into the “Christmas Spirit”.  I’ve polled a few experienced expat friends on the matter: Sarah Reimer, a Canadian living in Thailand, Kathryn Cross, a Canadian living in Australia, and Kristen Wruck Hammer, an American living in Brazil.  These are some things we do to make it feel more Christmasy even when we’re sweating.

  • Crank the Christmas tunes.  In Canada you can’t escape the bad Christmas music – the same annoying songs(although some good ones) are played on the radio and at the supermarket for at least a month.  Here in Brazil I have yet to experience this, which is kind of nice, as not to get sick of the songs, but also not nice because it can be easy to forget that Christmas is coming and it’s up to YOU to put on the tunes at home!  Now you can skip all the crap and just listen to the good stuff. I always start with the Good Lovelies, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.  I also have a Christmas playlist on YouTube: (click image below to open)

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  • Canadians, four words: Vinyl Café Christmas Tour.  Go, right now, subscribe to the Vinyl Cafe podcast so that the Christmas ones will appear in a couple of weeks.  If that doesn’t get you in the spirit, nothing else will.  Take care though, you may end up feeling nostalgic and homesick!  For Stuart McLean newbies, he’s a fabulous storyteller and every year he does a Christmas tour around Canada with a band, so it’s a great combination of tunes and heart warming stories.  I recommend this podcast to everyone, Canadian or not.

Stuart is great any time of year…

  • Watch at least one Christmas film.  I’m sure we all have a favourite.  It’s not Christmas time for me until I’ve watched Love Actually.  It’s not just my favourite Christmas movie, it’s my all time favourite movie.  Just in case you wanted to know.


  • Throw or partake in some Christmas parties.  Last year the kids and I threw a birthday party for Jesus – we had cake, cookies, and other goodies, colouring sheets and snowflakes, and we read the story of Jesus’ birth in the Jesus Storybook Bible.  It was a big hit.  You could also host or attend a potluck for other expats, especially if you’re far away from family and friends!
  • Make your house smell delightful.  Every year, Kristen makes an aromatic pine spray, and also diffuses an essential oil blend of clove, cinnamon, orange, and nutmeg.  Last year Sarah’s expat friend gave her a ziplock bag with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom, with instructions to simmer it on the stove if she missed that “Christmas-y” feeling.  

Sarah’s spice mix

  • Coooookiiiiiieeeees!  Kristen makes gingerbread cookies every year and this year she and I are planning a cookie exchange where each person brings a plate of cookies and everyone goes home with different kinds.

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  • Books and Activities for Kids.  Being involved with children can help a lot with getting into the Christmas spirit.  Last year I read the Christmas stories in the Jesus Storybook Bible for my boys(aged 1 and 3) every morning at breakfast.  Get your hands on a Christmas story you like(or ten!!) and read the heck out of them!


Some more thoughts:


Though I truly love living abroad, I find one of the major challenges is being away from home/family during holiday times.  Being in Thailand, I have felt especially removed from bustle of the Christmas season that I’ve known for so many years.  As Christmas music has begun already in early November at home in Canada, I am over here lathering on sunscreen and heading out the door in flip flops.  When I don’t own anything warmer than a jean jacket, I definitely have to use my imagination to get in the Christmas spirit!  Aside from listening to Christmas music at home, and watching “Home Alone” (one of my faves), here’s a couple things that really help bring back that Christmas-y feeling:

I always look forward to Christmas Skype calls with family at home.  Last year I skyped them from a beach in the south of Thailand!  My husband and I also made sure to whip out our Santa Hats and wish others that we saw on the beach a Merry Christmas 🙂


Sarah and her husband Zack spending Christmas in Koh Lanta, Thailand


I get out the Christmas stuff/music earlier than I would if I was in Canada…having it around and set up longer helps.  

Keeping some traditions I grew up with helps it feel “real,” like opening Christmas jammies on Christmas eve, and having a large fake Christmas tree.

Planning to celebrate a meal with friends so you get that “family feel”

Don’t try and cook a traditional Christmas meal… it’s too much effort, and at least for me I don’t feel like eating heavy food when it’s 40 degrees out or having the stove on for hours…

Try and embrace some local traditions (going to the beach, eating salads and bbq seafood, playing cricket – or not….etc)

Doing some kind of Advent Calendar if you have kids helps build the anticipation!  We like “Truth in the Tinsel” 


Kathryn and her family keeping cool in Perth, Australia


My husband comes from a family where Christmas was not celebrated, and so it can be a lonely time of the year for me as it lacks all of the things that make it “Christmas”! So one thing I do is buy little presents from the States during the year and hide them. Then when Christmas rolls around, I’ve forgotten about them, and it makes it feel more normal to open things on Christmas Day. Sometimes you have to get creative!

View from Kristen’s home in Florianopolis, Brazil

Here’s a fun Christmas diddy to get you started!

Have you spent Christmas abroad?  What did you think?


Expat friends, Christmas 2015

One thought on “[Living Abroad] Christmas On The Other Side Of The World

  1. Eldon HAY says:

    Thanks for this Lindsay
    I recall Christmases in Basel Switzerland many years ago now. I went to an Anglican service in a chapel of a large cathedral. It was so wonderful – everyone was speaking English!
    Blessings and love! Grampa and Anne


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