It’s officially the Christmas holidays for me and I’m basking in cosy lie-ins and slow-paced living. But the Christmas holidays bring Christmas with them (duh) and there lies a challenge. This is now my third Christmas away from home, but – as my Instagram archives are enjoying reminding me – the last two have seen travels to New Zealand and Laos, which happen to have been two of my favourite trips in life so far. It is, however, going to be the first Christmas that I’ve spent in my Hanoi home.
Just a note: I’m not that Christmassy. I’m not someone who relishes playing Christmas tunes from mid-October. My wardrobe isn’t full of festive jumpers and jingle-bell earrings. But as we edge closer to the big day, I do enjoy embracing the festive season. In a country that doesn’t celebrate the season, that can be hard. And being miles away from home isn’t easy either.
Christmas is a time filled with traditions, so it’s understandably hard when you can’t experience them. In 2020, that might be because you’re living in a different country, like me. Or perhaps it’s caused by the pandemic, and although you’re geographically close to loved ones, restrictions won’t allow your usual Christmas antics. Here are my suggestions for creating a special Christmas away from home.
1. Decorate your home
You might not want – or be able to find – a full on Christmas tree, but there’s bound to be a few Christmas decorations somewhere! I’ve set up a little corner of our living room with our mini tree, a couple of decorations and this beautiful print, which isn’t meant to be Christmassy at all, but I’m pretending it’s like a Christingle, okay? Grab some fairy lights, buy – or even make – some decorations and place any cards you receive around the room. Light some candles, close the curtains, pop the Netflix fire on the TV and it’ll be just like your living room back home.
2. Play festive films & music
Nothing says ‘It’s Chriiiistmaaas!’ like Slade shouting it. Truth. Pop the tunes on when your decorating, cooking, commuting, whenever! They’ll be sure to get you in the mood. Curl up on the sofa with your favourite festive movie (blanket and hot chocolate optional, but recommended).
Also, let me know your favourite Christmas films in the comments. Turns out I’ve never watched most of them. Too many years getting excited for the Eastenders Christmas special rather than The Grinch – oops.
3. Gather with friends, near and far
Christmas for me is all about spending time with my loved ones. I might not be able to be with my family and oldest friends in the UK, but I’ve planned calls with them either on the 25th or in the run up to it. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying time with my Hanoi friends, giving Christmas cards and heading to the places with gingerbread men or spiced lattes on the menu. Even better, bake something Christmassy to share with them as you watch a Christmas film.
4. Get an advent calendar
Shoutout to 3 of my fave people for getting some advent calendars sent out to Vietnam for us. I’d forgotten how much that little rush of excitement opening a door each day helps build up the Christmas vibes every day. It’s a bit late this year, of course, but I’d definitely recommend getting an advent calendar or – if you can’t find one where you live – make one using some string and some little envelopes! Ask a friend to fill it and you do the same with theirs!
5. Bake some Christmas treats
I love to cook any time of year, but I’ve grown up with Christmas being a special time for baking. For as long as I can remember, my Mum and I have always created festive scenes atop our Christmas cakes using fondant icing. My Pinterest Christmas board is full of ideas for next time we do it together. Whilst I won’t be doing that this year, baking a Yule log, and the Christmas excitement (chaos) of teaching 23 eight year olds to make gingerbread snowmen is enough to get me feelin’ festive.
6. Seek out some festive spots
Another tip is to find some Christmassy things to see and do. Depending on the country you’re in (and – in 2020 – the state of the pandemic), this might be super easy or a bit of a challenge. In Vietnam, Christmas isn’t celebrated. That being said, with a growing expat community, and some younger Vietnamese getting behind the hype, there are more and more festive events and public decorations. Wherever you are, seek some out. Are there any Christmas fayres you can shop at? Any cafes or restaurants glammed up, or even producing festive bakes or dinners? What about bright lights and decorations somewhere? How about craft or cooking workshops? If you can find any, get some pals together and visit! If there aren’t any happening due to the pandemic, create some of your own at home, like a Christmas cook-along on Zoom!
7. Accept it won’t be the same
I think this is the toughest one, but it’s also the most important. Here are some anecdotes for ya:
Two years ago, in Laos, I dragged Ol and his brother around Luang Prabang in search of somewhere serving Christmas dinner on the 25th. A veggie-friendly one, too. We couldn’t find one. I carted my Christmas jumper around for 3 weeks, despite the pretty high temperatures. It was my first Christmas away from home and it was anti-climatic. We had a lovely day in the end, but it didn’t feel Christmassy. Of course it didn’t – I wasn’t with the people I’d spent the last 25 Decembers with. It definitely wasn’t going to be a white Christmas and
Last year, in New Zealand, I didn’t build it up as much. We were in Wanaka, so yes it was an insanely beautiful place to be, but we didn’t expect to have a Christmassy day in the traditional sense. In fact, we got up from our little van, went for a hike, then returned to the campsite for some bubbly and a BBQ. It wasn’t festive at all, but it was still special.
I want to keep that feeling for this year. We’ll be in Hanoi on the 25th, just the two of us, and plan to go for a walk (provided the pollution hasn’t sky-rocketed again), head to our favourite coffee shop, then cook a Christmas dinner before facetiming our families. It won’t be anything like the Christmasses we grew up with, but we will do what we can to have a good day with festive fun, and I’m sure we will. It’ll be low key, but I’m ready for that.
Try to focus on the festive traditions that you can replicate rather than being sad to miss all the elements that you can’t. It will be different, but it can still be a special day you remember.
For me, I think these ‘different’ Christmasses will make my future ones even more special. I’m looking forward to the Christmasses where I can gather around a tree with my family, decorate a cake with my mum again and try to stop my dad eating alllll of the best Quality Streets before I get to them. Until then, I’ll enjoy making my own memories at Christmas time.
This Christmas is going to be weird for the majority of the world I think! What will you be doing? How are you feeling about it? Let me know in the comments! Whatever you do, have a lovely one!
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