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Visiting Family over Christmas when living abroad

It’s official. Christmas is here! And what’s not to love? There are gorgeous lights on every corner, so much delicious food to consume, its a great excuse for visiting family and endless parties.

Well, when you have family and friends living literally hundreds of miles in opposite directions, the pressure and stress of coordinating visiting family at Christmas can kill the festive spirit pretty quick. Despite all the chocolate.

Coordinating family gatherings is something any family or new couple will  deal with. When you’re married or in a long term relationship, you have to juggle two families and respect their traditions. This is especially difficult for military families and those living abroad as chances are, you don’t live a five-minute drive from the grandparents and life-long friends.

And this is exactly the predicament I find myself in.

As Brit who has just married the man of her dreams, become a military spouse and hopped over the ocean to be with him, I know won’t be spending every Christmas in my home-town any more. I’ve got my husband’s family to consider too.

So where will we spend Christmas? In the UK? At our new home? With my husband’s side of the family? On a desert island far away from all the stress of visiting people at Christmas?

Winter Wonderland

Christmas is all about friends and family and being close to them. So living abroad, or far from loved ones, can cause a lot of stress. It is the time of year when you’re expected to be visiting family and you HAVE TO HAVE A GOOD TIME WITH THEM OR ELSE, DAMN IT.

So how are we going to cope with one half of the family across an ocean and the other spread across the United States??

Plan it, plan it, plan it

Christmas is supposed to be a fun time of year, so plan it that way! Take notes from the shops/stores and begin thinking about Christmas in October (or August?!?!?). Make your plans as far in advance as possible!

We booked flights back to the UK as soon as we could to avoid last-minute price jumps and quickly decided on the most suitcase friendly presents for everyone. And we will be pinning down the neighbours to feed our cats while we’re away any day now.

It truly is amazing how much more relaxed we can be about Christmas now all of the logistics are sorted. If we were still trying to plan visititing our families at the end of November, I think I’d just turn off my phone, stock up on Oreos, lock the doors and sit by the fire until December has swept past.

Nothing like a family gathering in the snow

Christmas takes time and organisation, but oh my goodness it’s worth it. Even with the crazy life of living abroad or in a different state, Christmas can remain a time of relaxation and visiting family.

But only if you take the time or organise it!

Learn the art of compromise

While my husband and I were dating in the UK, we would spend Christmas in the UK. This allowed us to avoid insanely busy airports and gave me the chance to teach David about Christmas, British Style. (YOU SHALL LOVE FRUIT CAKE AND MINCE PIES EVEN IF IT KILLS ME, DAVID).

For the British, Christmas is THE time for visiting family. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving so Christmas is the only other opportunity to sit everyone around a table that is waaay too small, eat some glorious food and fall asleep in front of a cheesy film altogether. (The Muppets Christmas Carol, anyone??!!)

And to make up for not seeing David’s family, we’d see them for Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This plan has worked perfectly over the last two years.

visiting family for new years!

But now that we essentially live in between our two families, and I have had my choice for Christmas over the past 3 years, it’s my turn to compromise.

I’ll probably miss Christmas in the UK next year. But I’ll hop on Skype to speak with them and be sure to visit my family another time. Maybe we’ll have everyone stay with us. Who knows. We can’t please everyone every year so we’ll keep it rotating.

As long as we continue to recognise each other’s desire to see our families and show a willingness to compromise now and then we will work it out.

Actually enjoy Christmas, no matter the situation

It’s so easy to get worked up about the details. Or get mad at that one family member who never seems to know what they are doing. Or because this year you won’t be visiting your family for Christmas. Or because someone is annoyed you are not “spending enough time with them”.

So here is a revolutionary idea. Instead of getting stressed, enjoy it. Forget about the details and focus on having a fun day, no matter how simple or different or busy it is.

Christmas is about family.

A Transatlantic family
Amy Sanders Photography

It’s stressful when you live far away and everyone keeps pestering you about when you are home next and if you will be back or the holidays. But let’s think about it differently. Isn’t it amazing that you have so many people who you want to catch up with and who love you? Not everyone has that.

Treasure your family and enjoy visiting family when you can. Even if it’s not at “the most wonderful time of the year”, you’ll still have the most wonderful time whenever you do see them.

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