During our year-long backpack trip around the world, we spent Christmas in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I recall that Christmas morning quite vividly.
I was drinking a peppermint mocha and watching “A Christmas Story” on my laptop in a cafe. I knew that somewhere on the other side of the world, it was still Christmas Eve and my family was gathered in my aunt & uncle’s living room. I could see everyone cozied up together, maybe around the fire. I could almost taste the pizzelles. I could hear the bad jokes and my aunt’s prayers and so, so much laughter.
I didn’t realize how hard my first Christmas away from home would be. Traveling is incredible, but some days are harder than others. Christmas was one of those days.
But instead of being sad, we tried to make the most out of our first (and probably only) Christmas in Thailand! We wanted to share some of our ideas with others who might not be able to be home for Christmas either, because of travel or for so many other reasons. Here are some ways to bring the Christmas spirit to you, wherever you are.
I also recently shared a list of 10 Ways to Feel at Home When You’re Away From Home, which is a good one to go back and visit if the holidays have you feeling a little extra homesick.
10 Ways to Celebrate Christmas Away From Home
- FaceTime with family. Wherever you have a wifi connection, you have a window to your loved ones thanks to FaceTime (or Skype or whatever your video chat provider is). It’s not the same as being there, but it really helps to feel like you’re part of the festivities.
- Track down holiday treats. We were excited to find that Starbucks in Chiang Mai had Cranberry Bliss Bars, a holiday staple for me! Whatever your favorite treat is, try to track down a version where you are – you’d be surprised by the western influence around the world, and you just might find it! And if you can’t, try to make it!
- Start a new tradition. Take full advantage of the opportunity to start a new tradition that you can take with you for years to come! This Christmas Eve, we ran the Chiang Mai Marathon! And while we might not get to run an organized race every Christmas Eve, we’d love to continue the tradition of getting a run in to kick off the holiday!
- Christmas movies & TV episodes. This is something we always did at home and it was an easy thing to bring on the road. Netflix and Hulu offer enough holiday content to get you through the season. Some of our favorites are Modern Family, The Office, Friends and Bob’s Burgers Christmas episodes and movies like Elf, A Christmas Story, Four Christmases and Nightmare Before Christmas. Here is a great list of holiday episodes and where to stream them to get you started.
- Participate in the local traditions. Check to see if there are any holiday events going on whenever you are. They may not celebrate Christmas, but many other cultures and religions celebrate other winter holidays, so it’s worth investigating if there’s a local activity you can participate in. In Chiang Mai, most of the population is Buddhist, so they don’t celebrate Christmas, but they celebrate New Year’s with an epic lantern festival.
- Surround yourself with Christmas music. We’ve loved settling in at cafes and restaurants that have holiday music playing and Christmas decorations on display. Depending on where you are in the world, you may or may not find that, but you can listen to it while you’re home. We love Spotify for Christmas playlists like Classic Christmas and Nat King Cole Christmas.
- Send special holiday messages when time zones get in the way. Thailand is just about the worst time zone difference to talk with friends and family in Chicago, USA. We thought it’d be a great idea to record special holiday messages to our friends and family via video and share for the people we can’t talk to during the short amount of time when our awake hours align. We also sent Christmas cards, with help from my mom and dad in the States, which was a great way to keep in touch, too.
- Cook up your favorite Christmas meal. If you’re able to stay at an Airbnb for Christmas, try getting one with a kitchen. Then spend Christmas eve tracking down ingredients to try to recreate a holiday meal or treat! We meant to do this for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but keep ending up without kitchens, but we still think it’s a great idea.
- Turn on the “Fireplace” and listen to some Christmas stories. One of my favorite holiday traditions (that I still make my mom continue to do year after year) is read The Polar Express before bed on Christmas Eve. If you can’t be home, our favorite alternative is turning on the “Fireplace” on Netflix and listening to our favorite Christmas books online. You can find readings of the classic books like The Polar Express and How The Grinch Stole Christmas on YouTube.
- Decorate your home away from home. Bring some Christmas spirit into wherever you’re staying by adding some holiday decor. This could be as simple as cutting out paper snow flakes or picking up a small poinsettia plant (we saw some perfect ones in Hong Kong covered with glitter). It also would be fun to try to build a ginger bread housing using local cookies and candies!
What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? Let us know in the comments below.