There are an abundance of norms that have changed drastically in 2020, and the way in which many of us are celebrating this year's holiday season is no exception. For some, holiday traditions will be shared from a distance, as some family members can't leave their homes due to safety reasons and others are stuck in another part of the world due to travel restrictions. In my case, I am far away from my home state of Connecticut and will be spending this year's Thanksgiving and Christmas in the beautiful city of Medellín, Colombia, thousands of miles away from my family and up to my own devices to make this holiday season memorable. Here's how I plan to do it.
Share the Same Family Traditions Virtually
Even at a distance, there are quite a few family holiday traditions that I refuse to miss out on, including our delicious Thanksgiving dinners, exhilarating gingerbread-house-building competitions, and the opening of presents on Christmas morning. So, my family and I are planning creative ways to keep our traditions alive and make sure everyone is involved, no matter what continent they're on.
When it comes to our Thanksgiving meal, my family has already planned a group video call from our respective kitchens so that we can continue our tradition of cooking together and sharing our favorite recipes. Those who aren't able to attend our family dinner in person (that's me!) will be on a video call with their own place at the table, as if I was actually sitting with my family and enjoying the meal in person.
I'm choosing to embrace the new traditions I've learned here and adapt them into my usual holiday repertoire.
Our traditional gingerbread-house building and opening of presents on Christmas morning will look about the same as Thanksgiving: virtual, yet full of love. I, personally, have already begun my online gingerbread-house shopping (since gingerbread is not commonly found where I am) in order to get the perfect contender for my family's competitive house-building Olympics, and I'm anxiously awaiting a package of wrapped Christmas gifts from home to place under my tree in anticipation of my family's Christmas video call. While I wish I could celebrate all of these traditions back home, it's comforting to know that I can still celebrate with them, even at a distance.
Create New Traditions For Yourself
Being in a new environment for the holidays — especially when you're in another country by yourself — can bring overwhelming changes to the ways in which you're used to celebrating. I'm used to taking a trip to New York City each year to admire the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and Macy's elaborate window displays, as well as escaping the frigid Northeast air with a piping hot chocolate in hand, pummeled by an onslaught of American Christmas classics (including but not limited to: "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," "Baby It's Cold Outside," and "Jingle Bell Rock") as soon as I enter any store. In Colombia, however, everything is different than what I'm used to, from the music and food to the weather. But, even with all the changes, I'm choosing to embrace the new traditions I've learned here and adapt them into my usual holiday repertoire.
While I do miss the traditional music that plays incessantly during my home country's holiday season, it has been fun to generate a new playlist of songs that are traditionally listened to during the holidays here in Colombia. And instead of escaping the freezing New England air with a scalding cup of hot chocolate, this year I'll be soaking in Medellín's gorgeous spring-like weather — with a warm buñuelo (a traditional fried-cheese dough ball eaten during Christmas) in one hand and natilla in the other (a coconut custard also eaten during Christmas) — while walking around one of the many open parks filled with LED Christmas trees and elaborate nativity scenes.
Celebrate With a Different Tribe
While it can sometimes feel lonely to be far away from family, especially during the holidays, I am fortunate that I'm not actually physically "alone" here in Colombia. Since leaving the comfort of my home and the group of family and friends that came with it, I have slowly built up a new tribe of loved ones in my new city who are there for me in almost all the ways that my family back home can't be. When I'm upset or in need of a hug, I am lucky to have some beautiful souls to call on for some much-needed comfort. And when I need someone to celebrate my favorite holidays with in person, I know that I can count on them to include me in their holiday plans.
Apart from video calling my family on Thanksgiving to enjoy cooking and eating together virtually, this year, I'll be attending a fellow expat friend's (socially distanced) Friendsgiving here in Medellín. And, in conjunction with opening my family's gifts from back home on Christmas morning, I'll be joining a new group of family members as they celebrate their beloved Colombian Christmas traditions.
With so many changes to this year's holiday season, especially when celebrating on your own, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and left out of your traditional and beloved holiday festivities. But when you utilize technology, practice gratitude, and allow yourself to adapt to new traditions, it's more than possible to have a fulfilling and exciting holiday season — even if you are far away from home.