Growing up, I often spent Christmas at my friend Matt’s house. In fact, it often seemed like everyone I knew spent Christmas at his house. After everyone had their family Christmas, we congregated there to celebrate together as friends. Even after college, my friends and I still managed to spend Christmas at Matt’s house, holding onto that one tradition even as our lives grew apart.
I haven’t been home for the holidays in four years. I get asked a lot if I miss being home and in the spirit of Christmas. It must be hard to be away all the time, people say. But while there are things about the holiday season that I do miss, I’m not that bothered by it. My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and most of my friends are now spread out around the country.
When I think of Christmas, I think of spending time with friends and family, eating food, and going to holiday parties. The months before Christmas build excitement not only for the day, but for the whole time of year. However, overseas you don’t have that built-up, end-of-the-year, holiday-season feel surrounding you. You’re always on the move, and it’s hard to get into the spirit. When people think of the holiday season, they think of the cold, snow, lots of decorations, work parties, lights, and 24-hour Christmas music on the radio. But as a traveler, you don’t experience that atmosphere. Even if you’re in cold and snowy New York, being away from friends and family reduces your holiday cheer.
Traveling around New Zealand with a lot of first-time travelers, I’ve heard many comment on how sad they are to be away during this time. But I think, as nice as it is to be with friends and family, being away for the holidays can be a great experience.
My friend calls a traveler’s Christmas an “Orphan Christmas.” You have no loved ones around. Stranded from your loved ones, everyone misses that sense of home. And we all come together because of that and form our own “home.” We have to if we don’t want to spend the day alone. All we have is each other, which I feel is a good thing. This places the emphasis less on gifts and more on just being around others and having a good time. Coming together with other travelers also gives you the chance to learn about how the holiday is celebrated around the world.
And that spirit is what the holidays are supposed to be about anyways.
Celebrating in New Zealand, I learned they do Christmas lunch instead of dinner. The British love to celebrate the day after Christmas (Boxing Day), Germans get treats leading up to the holiday, and Swedes and Finns open presents on Christmas Eve. And the food people eat is just as varied as the celebrations. (Don’t get in the way of Brits and a roast or Aussies and a BBQ!) We all bring something different to the table, and that can make for an interesting, unique, and fun holiday.
Being away from home during this season can be a challenge. They say necessity is the mother of all inventions. It’s also the mother of all travel relationships. People want to be with others, and bonding over a holiday is a great way to become close with others.
A traveler’s Christmas has no gifts, no formalities, and no pressure. It’s simply about the food, the people, and the day. And that can give you a renewed appreciation for what this season is supposed to really be about.