While most of the international students on campus elected to go home for the holidays, some of us elected to stick around and see what London had to offer for the holidays. Whether for the experience or for the holes it won’t burn in your pocket, celebrating Christmas in the U.K. can make for one of the most memorable holidays you’ll ever have. And since I’m so into lists lately, here are 5 reasons to celebrate the holidays abroad:
1. Getting out of your comfort zone. Okay, in boarding the initial plane ride out of your country with all your belongings strapped to your back was the real step out of your comfort zone- I’ll cede to that. But celebrating a holiday that is usually chock-full of family mayhem and arcane traditions can be an even bigger step. A typical deterrent here is the fear of homesickness, and rightfully so as the holidays can get rough away from family, but it can be just as meaningful to spend that time experiencing something completely different while simultaneously appreciating your loved ones through their absence; after all, absence does make the heart grow fonder! And celebrating the holidays from a distance may not necessarily be quite as difficult or depressing as one might expect.
2. Sharing with people who celebrate differently. One of the glorious upsides to being in a different environment during a holiday chock-full of traditions is learning about the traditions of others- the food they eat, the movies they watch, the annual trips they might take, songs they sing, gifts they give, games they play, the list goes on. The beauty of this is that it goes both ways; you can bring some of your own tradition to the table (literally) as well. It’s pretty cool to learn about variations of all the different Christmas rituals, especially the left-o’-center ones that don’t fit your ethnocentric mold. You expand your picture of what the holiday is about, and maybe even pick up some small tradition trinkets to take home and share with your own family next year.
3. Strengthening the bonds with your adopted-international-family-abroad. Nothing screams “Christmas Spirit” like three broke and slightly homesick college students lounging in their pajamas watching reruns of Harry Potter! But in all seriousness, this kind of sharing can really bring out the best in people. I spent Christmas with some fellow stragglers who for whatever reasons didn’t make it home for the holidays, and each others’ company in the absence of our families’ turned out to be a pretty rewarding substitute. A couple bottles of champagne and my first-ever homemade turkey made for a lovely Christmas dinner, and I will forever feel closer to the people I spent my first Christmas this far away from home with.
4. The flippin’ Christmas markets! You would not believe the amount of Christmas crap you can get at these markets. Creative gifts, quintessential gifts, off-the-wall gifts, German brats, mulled wine, a billion different types of candy, pictures with elves, and countless trinkets to adorn your shelves with and never use again. Even if it’s just to see and maybe sip on some hot cider, the markets are worth the experience and shape the holiday atmosphere in an epic way.
5. Appreciating home. Like I said, absence makes the heart grow fonder. There is something bittersweet and almost romantic about recalling your traditions at home, telling your fellow international Christmas soloists about them, learning how theirs are different from yours, remembering the good stuff back home. It makes you appreciate what you’ve had and what you can look forward to having again- a powerful gift to get from your Christmas experience. Though melancholy moments may happen, you can take my approach- kick back a few mimosas before Skyping with your mom, sister, dad, uncle, cousin, cousin, cousin, second cousin, other second cousin, aunt, uncle, while your grandpa sings Christmas songs to your friend who is sitting next to you and your uncle hollers at the screen with a paper towel roll from across the room… It’s almost like being home for the holidays.