How to Survive Christmas Overseas (In a Place that Doesn’t Celebrate Christmas)

First and foremost, when you are at a young and tender age, become friends with a true soulmate make who will send you (express) whatever ridiculous thing you suddenly miss at Christmas. One of the challenges of living overseas is that you never know ahead of time what you will miss – it’s rarely what you expect. You create a 400-song compilation of Christmas hits and suddenly you are pining for some obscure tune that you track down to a used record store but of course they don’t ship overseas or YOU MUST HAVE the round ‘starlight’ peppermints or your gingerbread house will not be complete and your entire season will be ruined. And, of course, the thing that you miss so terribly will change from year to year – one year you are desolate over the fact that you don’t have an advent calendar, one year it’s a yearning for a ‘stocking.’ The people who will go out on December 3rd and find whatever ridiculous thing you are craving and send it to you – those kind of people are rare and are especially difficult to acquire later in life. So, I hope you were a good child and managed to procure yourself one when you were a tot so that you may reap the benefits now.

Get candles – even if they are tea lights. Light them.

Be prepared to sob at unexpected times for unexplained reasons – Kleenex and waterproof mascara.

Make deliberate choices to make December different – from December 12 to the 25th, wear some red or green every day. Save whatever treats are on hand and plan special food for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Sometimes it’s better not to try to recreate a traditional dinner, especially in countries where everything is going to be a substitution.

Yes, you can play Christmas carols on your work computer because no one will know they are Christmas carols. Say they are traditional folk music from your home village.

Carry a large, shapeless purse to the ‘tree-lighting’ parties in hotel lobbies and feel no shame in taking a few (dozen) extra Christmas cookies – especially Lebkuchen. There is no law anywhere on Earth that regulates the pilfering of Lebkuchen. Any Lebkuchen anywhere is always up for grabs.

Foreign-owned shops will usually have a small selection of cheap, hideous Christmas decorations which you would never touch with a ten-foot pole. Buy some of them. Just do it.

If you get to a country that does celebrate Christmas between November and February – keep on the lookout for Christmas gear, especially at international airports.

Remember that you can buy and play favorite Christmas movies and tv shows as background – have them on as ‘radio’ when you are cleaning, decorating, cooking, whatevering

When non-Christians say, “Merry Christmas,” reply with, “thank you.” When Brits wish you “Happy Christmas,” don’t correct them. They can’t help it that they learned the wrong expression and as Christmas is the time of tolerance, say “Merry Christmas” to them and hope they pick up the hint.

Understand that going to Christmas parties may well depress you into a catatonic stupor – feel free to skip them and if you go, have a back-up fake emergency plan to leave early and a self-care plan for afterwards. Particularly note that at the times when you might be feeling most blue, friends and family will be most busy. If your favorite author publishes a new book in the fall, DON’T READ IT. Keep it on hand for Christmas-time wallows of misery. Ditto a movie you are dying to see.

Get out of the house. Go to café or hotel lobby with Christmas carols on your earphones and slip a peppermint candy into your coffee. Accidentally manage to spill some red and green glitter on the table, buy local postcards and add pine trees onto the photos with a green Sharpie.

Get crafty, especially if you have no talent for it. Make your own Christmas cards on which you draw camels which look like seals. Embrace the suck. Try to create wreathes out of ribbons – and put what you end up with on display. Do not give up, do not give in. Christmas is about the joy of a promise fulfilled – there is joy to be had. So be joyful.