Christmas Overseas – Let’s Talk About Coping

I have had a lot of Christmases away from home but this one is looking particularly bleak. And I don’t have the luxury of moaning as I must put all my energy into assisting you, my young grasshopper who does not (yet) have decades of experience in fighting this out. And it is a fight – make no mistake.

Christmas is not just cutting out paper snowflakes during Zoom meetings (using both company paper AND company scissors), it’s a whole series of deliberate choices to give yourself chances to catch joy. You can’t force happiness, but you can create circumstances in which, if nothing else, a kind of contentment can blossom.

Normally I would suggest that you ask friends at home so send care packages – but everyone is stretched to the limit. This year, you are on your own.

Make December different – from December 12 to the 25th, wear some red or green every day. Put cream instead of milk in your coffee. Put a chocolate on your pillow at 8pm and act all surprised when you see it at bedtime. Buy fresh croissants for breakfast – see if the ice cream store has peppermint ice cream.

Save whatever treats you can find and plan special food for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, even if you have to work those days. Sometimes it’s better not to try to recreate a traditional dinner, especially in countries where everything is going to be a substitution.

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

Wear red lipstick. Super red. Even if it doesn’t ‘go.’ And paint your toenails red or wear red socks.

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

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. Also, change your computer screen saver to a photo of a Norwegian forest.

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

Cue up your favorite movies from childhood and go all in on Christmas watching – The Grinch, Charlie Brown, The Nutcracker,  White Christmas, Christmas in Connecticut, Muppet’s Christmas, A Reindeer’s Journey, Elf, Christmas Office Party. Yes, Virginia, you can watch a Hallmark Christmas movie every night of December. We approve.

Get out of the house (safely!). Go to café or hotel lobby with Christmas carols on your earphones. If you have willing friends – try to organize and OUTSIDE, DISTANCED carol sing. One of the happiest Christmas stories I know is a family who took put their kids in their car and drove around to the houses of various friends to sing a Christmas carol as people listened from the doorway. Covid-safe and merry.

Add candy canes (if you can get them) to your coffee.

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. Spill some red and green glitter on the table, buy local postcards and add pine trees onto the photos with a green Sharpie. Try to create wreathes out of ribbons – and put what you end up with on display.

If you have pleasant co-workers and neighbors, be direct!  On the 24th bring cookies to work and hand them out saying, “tomorrow is my Eid!” Let them congratulate you.

Do not give up, do not give in to grief. Christmas is about the joy of a promise fulfilled – there is joy to be had so try to find it and try to pass it on.

Here’s your mantra (Dolly Parton has the best version)

Lord it’s like a hard candy Christmas
I’m barely getting through tomorrow
But still I won’t let
Sorrow bring me way down

I’ll be fine and dandy
Lord it’s like a hard candy Christmas
I’m barely getting through tomorrow
But still I won’t let
Sorrow bring me way down

Hey, maybe I’ll learn to sew
Maybe I’ll just lie low
Maybe I’ll hit the bars
Maybe I’ll count the stars until dawn
Me, I will go on

(by Carol Hall)