Cultural Experience | All Experiences

“I Won’t Be Home For Christmas”: How to Celebrate Christmas Abroad

Deciding to study abroad is a big decision itself, but to celebrate Christmas overseas can be even more daunting.

Without a doubt, it was the biggest step I took away from my comfort zone. Telling mom that I wasn’t coming home for Christmas wasn’t exactly what she wanted to hear over Skype after I’d been living overseas for 4 months.

I was brought up with Rudolph, sat up on Santa’s lap as a child and still even get gifts from him under the tree. Choosing not to go home for Christmas meant breaking traditions I had been celebrating since the day I was born. I had no idea what was in store when deciding to celebrate Christmas overseas – especially alone.

A Christmas overseas doesn’t have to be taboo or a time for uncertainty, though. It will be different from any Christmas experience you’ve had back home, but that’s the whole point you flew out here to study abroad, right? To try something new. To challenge yourself. With the right attitude, it may be the most memorable experience from your time abroad.

You don’t have to be alone

Just because you’re away from family doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself up in a hotel room and watch Love Actually all day. For some international students from North America studying in Asia and Europe, there isn’t a choice of whether or not to stay or go for the holidays. Travelling home for Christmas is costly. Everyone is trying to fly home at the same time and it’s one of the busiest travel times of the year.


With this in mind, you’re not the only student who will be spending the holiday season away from family. There are those students staying for financial reasons and those who may choose to be spending the winter break travelling.

Take advantage of the friends you’ve made through school and your travels. I was lucky enough to have a friend invite me to his family’s place for the holidays and celebrated New Year’s with his family in Rome.

Also check for local Couchsurfing events in the city where you’re staying in. There’s bound to be travellers just like yourself who would love to meet up and celebrate the holidays.

Seize the moment

Every country and culture celebrates Christmas differently. Some countries don’t even celebrate at all. I had the opportunity to spend New Year’s with my Italian friend at his home in Rome. I met him during study abroad in the Netherlands and was welcome with more than open arms from his family. I was a part of the family. We spent the evening at the Vatican celebrating mass with Pope Francis and had the opportunity at midnight to watch fireworks and drink champagne underneath the Colosseum. Prior to New Year’s, I used my winter break to travel and ski in one of the Alps’ most beautiful gems, Cortina D’Ampezzo.


No event during my study abroad came close to being as unique as the Christmas holidays. Even outside of study abroad, I had never experienced something quite like my time in Italy.

Staying overseas for Christmas means you’ll be missing out on the holidays at home, but you should never forget what you’ll be missing in your host country if you do go back. Traditions will always be the same back in your hometown. Take advantage of your location and try something different. You’re bound to celebrate another Christmas back home — you have your whole life ahead of you.

Winter break also is one of the most opportune times to travel. Take some time for yourself if you’d like and give yourself the gift of a holiday. Immerse yourself as much as possible in new cultural experiences and don’t make Christmas the exception.

Reconnect at home

Besides spending time with your friends overseas, Christmas truly isn’t the same without family. What a time we live in where the smiles and voices of our family are just a Skype call away. On Christmas day, to my relief, I spent an hour talking with my family over Skype. You’re never too distant from family with technology nowadays. It truly is a blessing given to our generation of college tourists.

Don’t interrupt the experience

Call me Scrooge, but it was my own decision to stay overseas for Christmas during my study abroad.

One of the main reasons why I chose to stay in Europe for Christmas was that I didn’t want to create a break from my study abroad experience. Studying abroad is all about personal growth and I felt that at this point in my time overseas I was just getting into the hang of things. I had made new friends, started to know all the local cafes in my host city and even could speak a bit of the local language. Going home would have meant seeing old friends, but also could have meant a loss of momentum.

For some students who are only studying for a semester, going home for Christmas may be going home for good. Instead of deciding to head home early, embrace the last hurrah.


If you’re away for a year, like I was, and hadn’t felt immersed or comfortable in your host country yet, going home will only distance you from getting yourself into that comfort zone.

Homesickness is normal and bound to happen at any point during your study abroad, especially around Christmas when you’re truly breaking normal routine. The trick is to face your fears head on. Break the taboo. Do what’s daunting.

How to Celebrate Christmas Abroad

Evan Przesiecki

Carleton University | 9 stories

Evan Przesiecki is a journalism student at Carleton University who studied abroad in the Netherlands and Denmark.

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