How to have a normal expat Christmas


What is a normal expat Christmas?

I’m absolutely delighted to be co-hosting this month’s Travel Link-Up with Follow Your Sunshine, Adventures of a London Kiwi and SilverSpoon London. Appropriately, we have a festive theme for the month of December. The idea of travelling at Christmas is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to write this post.

The reason why I’ve been thinking about it is because someone recently mentioned that their Thing has had 5 out of 6 Christmases in a different country. I was impressed.

Until I realised that Thing 1 was in the same boat last year (and 6 out of 6 different cities). Thing 2 will have clocked 5 out of 5 by the end of the month.

Come to think about it, last year I spent Christmas in yet another place, taking my own tally to 9. Not to mention that our Christmas holiday in Bali was the inspiration for this whole blog!

In our expat world, this is our normal.

I forget it isn’t normal for everyone else.


Normal Expat Christmas - Family Photo of us in Bali
What is a normal expat Christmas?


Should we stay or should we go?

We all know that Things need (and thrive on) routines and familiarity. I think it’s something all parents worry about but on the expat circuit it reaches a new level.

Because we all know that whether we travel or not, routine is anything but guaranteed at this time of year. Friends come. And friends go. Visitors arrive. Trips home or overseas are erratic at best. They might be very short visits or really long. They might involve long haul flights and significant time differences.

There’s nothing normal about that.


A different place every year

Normal Expat Christmas - Wanderlust family photon front of the Treasury in Petra, Jordan
An adventurous Christmas!


I can’t sugarcoat it. There’s no routine in spending so many Christmases in different places. There’s no normal expat Christmas for us.

If you know us at all you will know we are absolute sticklers for routines with our Things. They go to bed at a time most people think is absurdly early. They wake up at the same time every day. Until recently if they woke early they didn’t come out of their rooms. They have fixed times for meals and snacks. And that’s bearing in mind we’re way more flexible than we used to be!

It’s sort of surprising, then, that we choose to take them away from all that is normal and familiar for almost every holiday. And especially for Christmas.


Not everyone travels

For some people the routine is staying where they are. In another conversation last week, a friend said they always stay here because the Things couldn’t handle going away. She said they didn’t feel like it was ‘properly’ Christmas. Other people feel so strongly about it not feeling like Christmas where they are living that they go home every year.


Normal Expat Christmas - View of the Doha skyline and a dhow boat from the sea
Even when you stay at ‘home’ there’s no normal


In fact, last year I wrote about the different places expats spend Christmas. We go home, we stay where we are or we travel. When we travel we might go on our own or meet other people.

Pretty much the only constant is that no year is the same.

So how do we keep some semblance of normality when we disrupt everything that is normal for our Things? And how do we make Christmas feel special when year to year everything changes?


Routine in chaos!

You know we believe routines are critically important. Routines of all sorts – daily, weekly, annual… So, wherever we can we try to keep daily routines the same.

Bed times and bedtime routines are generally the same as if we had been at home. We make sure that beloved toys and favourite luvvies come with us (this did backfire when we lost Thing 1’s blanket in Oman). We stick to usual meal and snack times wherever we can.

And (shock of all horros) we bend the rules more often to allow for special occasions. So things like ice-creams are a more frequent occurrence!


Movable traditions

We’ve started to implement a few festive traditions in an attempt to create that “Christmas feel” that everyone seems to be chasing. All of them have to be things that can move around with us wherever we happen to be each year.


Normal Expat Christmas - Wanderlust family with Father Christmas in front of a Christmas tree
Father Christmas in Jordan!


December fun

Tastes and smells are so evocative!

We can’t get real trees so I’ve got a Christmas tree smelling candle sat next to it to try, Mulled wine is another one of those smells that really evokes Christmas memories for me. Stollen cake has been a staple in my family for years. It has now crossed over to Mr Wanderlust’s family and Granny Wanderlust is tasked supplying us with it every year. I’m thinking of making Christingles with the Things to get us more into the Christmas spirit.

We’ve got an Elf on the Shelf called Clark who visits us from the beginning of December and manages to find us wherever we happen to be. He might be the bane of our lives (we forget to move him almost every night haha) but the Things are SOOO excited when he arrives!

We try to find a Father Christmas to visit at some point during the month. This year I think we might see him twice. And last year he made a surprise appearance in Petra handing out soft toy camels to the children. We still talk about that Santa.


25th December

A gift the night before Christmas is a tradition from my family that we sometimes do. It’s the other end of the spectrum with Mr Wanderlust’s family so maybe that won’t happen this year!

New pyjamas appear on Christmas Eve. Stockings always have a new Christmas ornament comes and a book inside them.  A big meal with family is a must (so far we have always managed to find turkey) and on 12thnight we always have galette to celebrate the Fête Des Rois – a carryover from Mr Wanderlust’s family’s time living in France.


There’s no such thing as a normal expat Christmas

Normal Expat Christmas - View of the ocean in Bali past Mr Wanderlust and I's feet and a couple of beers
There’s nothing ‘normal’ about this Christmas view!

Over the years I’ve talked to loads of people about this. The reality is we all have different Christmases and traditions. We all do different things. The reality is that there is no such thing as a normal expat Christmas. There’s not even such thing as a normal Wanderlust Christmas!

And not only is that ok with me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.


So about the Travel Link Up


Normal Expat Christmas - Pinnable Image

Emma Morrell
Emma Morrell

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  1. 1 December 2018 / 10:52

    Great post and I can relate! I’m living in my 4th country, my husband’s parents live in one country, mine in another, my brother in another. So our Christmas is all over the place. But I do need a couple things to have a Christmas feel. I need snow and at least one traditional dish from my birth country. Then I’m good.

    • 2 December 2018 / 09:54

      Snow really helps – its been a while since I had a snowy Christmas but last year was at least cold in Jordan! Warm Christmases feel weird lol. Thanks for reading x