Enjoying Christmas when you’re far from home

I’m pretty lucky. I have a rich history of Christmas gatherings with my family. And my grandpa – well, he was basically Jimmy Stewart. Every Christmas the massive tree would be perfectly shaped and glittering from the window, luminaries would dot the sidewalk, a star in the attic would shine out, green pine and a fresh wreath would be on the porch and the red door would welcome visitors. When you entered the house from the bitter cold, you’d get the biggest, most sincere hugs from him amidst the warm, scratchy sounds of Lawrence Welk and The Ames Brothers’ Christmas albums coming from the record player. As you strolled further inside, the pine garland wrapped up the stairs and the dinner table decked out with the famous Christmas punch, honey-baked ham, cheese ball, sugar cookies, homemade cinnamon roll and dinner rolls, cheesy potatoes and more surrounded by glimmering candles.

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Welcome home – my grandparents’ Christmas welcome to all wary travellers.

It was always a magical time. But as time passes these traditions are passed down, family scatters across the world and/or Christmas traditions change and evolve. Fast forward to the present, where I’ve lived in the UK for 8 years and have spent 6 Christmases away from family. The first few Christmases away from family were quite hard after being spoilt with so many good family memories. But with more time away during holiday, I’ve started to look forward to these brief moments where I have the luxury of time to practice self care and plan for the new year.

If you’re also living away from home and won’t be able to make it home for Christmas this year, here are my tips for enjoying the holidays while away from family. I hope this introduces a bit of magic and fun to your festive season. So fill up that glass with a Christmas mimosa or eggnog and read on!

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Part of Edinburgh’s Christmas market. Pop in for a gin hot toddy.

How to enjoy Christmas while away from home

  1. Plan a gathering with friends – Whether you want to plan a potluck, make a Christmas feast with all your favourite Christmas goodies or do a 12 Pubs of Christmas pub crawl, enjoy some quality time with your friends! Getting in the festive fun with friends will lift your spirits and will ensure you honour the holidays in your own special way. I normally have a few Christmas meetups with friends scattered around the holidays. Seeing their smiling faces is such food for my soul.

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    In the midst of 12 Pubs of Xmas Edinburgh edition with Elizaveta and friends
  2. Volunteer or donate – When you’re away from family and not practising the same traditions as you normally would, it’s easy to think that you’ll treat the holidays like any other normal day/week. However, I’ve noticed that when I do this, it only stifles what you truly feel and makes you feel worse. So find out what local community work you could help with – serving food in a soup kitchen, supporting those who are lonely, donate toys to kids or perhaps give a Christmas donation to your favourite charity this Christmas. It’s the season for giving after all – and whether you give your time or money – you’ll feel so much better knowing you made someone else’s Christmas this year. Here are a list of my favourite charities, which are near and dear to me so if you’re looking to donate money this year – consider them: Down’s Syndrome Scotland, Homes for Wounded WarriorsThe Malala Fund, National Park Foundation and Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. This year, I donated to the Malala Fund, which will help Syrian refugee girls get back to school and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – in memory of my grandpa who made Christmas magical.
  3. Practice self care – Too often during Christmas we can find ourselves exhausted after finalising work, running around to get items for presents, decorations and Christmas meals/parties. It’s in between the anxiety attack amongst tinsel and Christmas lines/queues that we just switch off and tesume on autopilot. Instead of auto-piloting your life this holiday season, why not take advantage of the free time and do some daily meditation (I use this free app that’s great for beginners), listen to some entrepreneurial and wellness podcasts (I love The Brave Exchange and Let It Out with Katie Dalebout) and take on a self care Christmas challenge. Why not take time to acknowledge your year and plan for your future goals? The following list is compiled from Handel Group’s free Design Your Year webinar, which they’re running again on Tuesday 10th January. I recommend signing up to this webinar (even if you can’t make it due to time zones, as you’ll still be sent the recorded link to listen to at a time more suitable to you). 1) Write down your successes 2) Write down your failures 3) Write down one thing you can still accomplish this year that’s truly possible 4) Symbolically burn your 2016 failures on NYE 5) Design your new year goals/plans in a collage or vision board. 6) Name 1 specific goal you want to achieve in 2017. 7) What are the excuses that stop this dream? 8) What promises can I make to myself to meet this 2017 goal? 9) What consequence can I implement to ensure the success of this goal?

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    My Christmas treat to myself – the Tone It Up exercise goodies (plus digital exercises) to take 2017 by storm.
  4. Get into an exercise/diet routine – Have you always wanted to try yoga, barre, HIIT or join a running club? Now’s the time to find out what options are around you. Give yourself the gift of health by signing up to a studio and give yourself a goal for the first month i.e. commit to doing 15/20 classes in a month. Spend some time looking into healthy eating plans or recipes and start a routine of meal prepping once every weekend. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan. Once you’re a member, you’re always sent their new meal plans and recipes at no extra cost. The meals are delicious and their plans come with weekly shopping lists, meal prep lists and meal plans. It takes the planning down to a minimum and leaves you prepared to start the week on a healthy footing. They’re offering a January Challenge complete with meal plans, recipes and exercises – I’m getting prepared for this challenge during the holidays.
  5. Spend Xmas with a partner or friend – Even though I’ve spent 6 Christmases in the UK, I’ve never spent the day alone. Thanks to extremely kind friends and their families who’ve shared their Christmas traditions with me, I’ve created some amazing memories – enjoyed the traditional British Christmas meals (turkey, parsnips, brussel sprouts, chipolatas, cauliflower cheese, Christmas pudding and Christmas crackers), partook in the Brits’ penchant for Christmas jumpers (cue images of Bridget Jones) and spent time with new and old friends over board games and chats. I’ll forever be grateful for their kindness. This year I’m spending my Christmas with another expat friend over a nice Christmas buffet and movies and I can’t wait!
  6. Facetime/Skype with family – This will instantly make you smile and your heart dance. No matter where I am, I always love giving my family a phone on Christmas Eve when we have our Christmas meal. The phone is passed around to everyone, I get a great close up of my grandma’s forehead as she navigates the smart phone and it’s food for the soul seeing so many loved ones. But make sure you plan ahead and schedule in a time with the Christmas host otherwise you risk disappointment due to time differences.

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    Edinburgh Christmas is magical. View of the German markets and Christmas tree labyrinth off Princes Street.
  7. Make New Year’s Eve plans – Christmas may be all about family but NYE is a time you can catch up with friends after their holidays. So whether you head to the city, host a party or spend NYE at a friend’s – make sure you properly celebrate this day. And if you’re in the UK at the year end, head up to Edinburgh for New Year’s Eve. It’s so big up here that Edinburgh celebrates for 3 days and the Scots have their own name for NYE – Hogmanay.

Where are you spending your Christmas away from family this year? What are your plans?

I hope the above list serves you this Christmas and that it brings you peace, comfort, laughter and kindness to you and your loved ones this Christmas. Embrace this new experience. And remember, growth is born out of discomfort and change. This is a great experience and the next time you visit family/host Christmas, you’ll embrace the beautiful festive chaos xx

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Ice skating rink at St Andrew’s Square in Edinburgh.
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