J Simens.com

How Expats Celebrate Christmas, According To Our Statistics

Santa hat on Globe

The older people are, the more likely they are to celebrate Christmas as a mandatory holiday.

I used not to have to ‘think’ about how we would spend Christmas. I’d have a quick chat with the family, and we’d discuss several options, I’d book flights and off we would go.  Last year, we had to coordinate two college schedules; a VISA or Kitas card extension (legal document to stay in the country) and a speaking engagement for me. This year, we have to work around a child’s new job, a college schedule and snow!

Airlines must love me! One year, one ticket had to be changed three times. When I went on-line to recheck everything a few days before Christmas, one child was flying from Toronto to Honduras by way of Cleveland, to San Francisco!  Not really but that is what the computer was saying. So back on the phone with the airlines and that agent was as confused as I was.  After an hour on the 800 number with him, he finally told me “The best option is to go to the airport and have them fix this.”

When we checked into our flights for Roatan, I asked the agent to reconfirm my children’s tickets.  “Amazing”, she thought the disconnection between my printed off version and confirmation number and what her screen showed was “interesting” and “I have never seen this before”.  After about 35 minutes she gave me a new print off that did match up and said, “Without a doubt – your son will fly on that day and get to Roatan.” He did.

This year, my son arrived the first week of December so the pressure was off to see if he would make it for the holiday. My daughter doesn’t even get to arrive this year until Christmas Eve. We are set to have a big snowstorm that afternoon!

Being an expat increases the likelihood that somewhere along the rental car line you will have a ‘concern’.

One year, as we checked into the car rental company on Roatan, Honduras, there was a little confusion. We don’t speak Spanish so this always adds to the confusion and our Spanish speaking child had not yet arrived for the holiday. We had a USA credit card to hold down the reservation but wanted to pay by cash this added to the confusion. Not to mention getting a quick lesson on the exchange rate of Dollars to Lempiras.

Then – I pulled out my Indonesian driver’s license and had to give my Indonesian address for clarification. My husband pulled out his Thailand driver’s license, and they asked for his valid address in Thailand.  Man oh man; it is hard to remember all these different things.

Nowadays, we both carry Nevada driver’s licenses and have a credit card with that same address. I guess you can say we have simplified our life!

Being a parent increases the likelihood someone will put up a Christmas tree.

Every year we try to have a Christmas tree put up where we are at Christmas. When we are home, it is easy. When we are in a hotel, not so easy. When we are on a beautiful tropical island, not easy at all. By now, my family is one that thinks outside the box.

Christmas in the Caribbean SeaThis was our tree – one year.  Yes, sixteen red solo cups make our lovely little tree on Roatan. It will be just perfect on Christmas morning when we have our stockings casually draped on the floor waiting for anticipation for the kids to get up and open their Santa stockings. This used to happen in the wee hours of the morning but this year we are just hoping it happens before noon. Amazing how tired young adults can be after finals and a long semester or the worries and long hours of a new job.

As we all get older, the clutter of wrapping paper and the huge display of gift giving gets smaller and smaller. We are not giving up consumerism totally but we are all on the same page. We have a lot of wonderful things already in our life so let’s just give the most precious gift of “time”. It is an excellent feeling.

 We are valuing time together, excellent food and special sunsets.

My family has been lucky enough to spend Christmas in a variety of locations due to our jobs working abroad. We often make Christmas a tri-generational event so some traditions are important to keep. The one tradition we have is the kids have  two stockings that are placed under our Christmas tree each Christmas eve. The stockings have a special meaning to our family since they were hand cross stitched by their Aunt Jennifer and then Aunt Jackie actually made them into Christmas stockings.

Last year, we recaptured the joy of spending Christmas in Australia. We were lucky enough to have both kids born there and spend  five years in Western Australia.  I loved hearing Tim Minchin’s version of Christmas. They drink white wine in the sunshine.  Just my type of Christmas and how we have spent many Christmas days! This year we opted for a White Christmas in Lake Tahoe.

For my kids – what was important – stocking location!

What was most important is the place where the kids hung the stockings – it must be under their Christmas tree. This is hard to do if you are not spending Christmas in your own home. Now that my kids are adults, Santa has arrived in Australia, Borneo, The Cook Islands, Canary Islands, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand, Honduras, as well as multiple locations in the USA.

The one Christmas tree that makes us all still smile is the one my son made in the Cook Islands. He had been in the hotel lobby watching the hotel staff get all of their decorations set up for the Holiday event. They showed him how to weave flowers into strips of leaves and drape them over the large lobby tree. He then went out into their gardens and collected enough natural supplies to decorate the Christmas tree in our hotel room. There was only one small problem. We didn’t have a tree!

He took every pillow and cushion in our hotel suite and fashioned a pyramid in the corner of the room. He draped all the leaves and flowers over this pile of cushions and proudly announced that it was our “Christmas tree”! He then went and got the stockings and put them at the base of the cushion tree. We all remember how it was the rest of that day and night waiting for Santa!

We had to watch TV as we were sitting on a brick hard couch without cushions. We tried to sit on the balcony to watch the ocean but found the rattan chairs without any cushions unbearable. The hardest thing was trying to get his older sister to go to bed without a pillow. My husband and I were able to pull our pillows off the “tree” for our own bed after the kids went to sleep and before Santa arrived.

We love our tri-generation holidays at Christmas.

They often seem like a family reunion, Grandpa comes from California and we meet him at a new location every other Christmas. Family reunions are important because they allow the family to create rituals that connect the generations. Children tend to love family rituals, even if they don’t admit it. Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing. A family ritual is anything your family does together deliberately.

Rituals are emotionally enriching. It is never too late to start a ritual. Some children may resist being involved in such rituals. But if rituals are presented in a non-controlling manner and you manage your expectations, all family members will ‘get on board’ much more readily than you thought.

I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time and one key way to do this is to have family reunions. Christmas is a great time to do this!


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