Holidays are particularly hard for immigrants and those who have to travel for work. Homesickness often hits when the familiar Christmas tunes start to play on the radio or the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree remind us of our past holidays.
We’re rolling into December and Covid-19 is still hanging heavy like a dark cloud over our heads. Many families are spending the holidays apart due to travel restrictions, closed borders, expensive flights, and lockdowns in certain parts of the world.
The holidays -- whatever form it takes for your family -- are always something we think of with fondness at the end of the year. The smell of freshly baked pie wafting from the kitchen (or whatever your grandma’s special dish is), the crass old aunt who insists on asking all the single ladies about their wedding plans, the game of football or poker with the cousins and ending the night in a drunken stupor. Sometimes we love it. Sometimes we hate it. But it is beyond doubt that it is something we will miss when we can’t celebrate it with the ones we love.
Homesickness manifests in many ways, it could be an urge to call your far-away loved ones at all hours of the day, feeling alone and wanting to just jump on the next plane to take you across the ocean to your family. It is not always possible to do the things we want, particularly with the global pandemic still working its way through the world. So, let’s talk about the next best thing -- finding ways to overcome homesickness.
I’ve been living away from my extended family for five years now, so I’ve come up with several tricks to deal with homesickness during the holidays. Here’s what works for me and I hope it helps you, too:
1. Watch the same Christmas movies together - Christmas movie marathons are something I’ve done with my siblings for as long as I can remember. We’ve gone through hundreds of them over the years. The earliest I remember watching together is the 1964 classic stop-motion animation Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The last Christmas movie we watched was shortly before we migrated -- the 2015 Horror / Comedy Krampus. It was a brother-sister tradition we could easily keep alive and share with our children despite the distance. All made easier with the streaming services we now have. To make it even more special, set a time and date to watch it together so you can talk about it after.
2. Indulge in comfort food - Think of the food that reminds you of home. Spend time learning to cook it for yourself or call a relative that does it well and ask for help. Not a kitchen whiz? The next best thing is to find professionals who can do it well for you! Find a great restaurant that cooks your favorites the way Nana does. Or hire a home chef to learn the recipe for you and make it for the holidays.
3. Write Christmas cards - Writing can be cathartic. Choose family members to send your hand-written notes that you’ll actually send by snail mail. Spend time really thinking about what you’ll write to them about -- it could be good memories you had growing up with them or what you look forward to doing with them after the pandemic.
4. Get on a family video call - Welcome your old traditions into the new age. If you have an annual family reunion during the holidays, why not schedule a Zoom call for it instead? While each family spends their Christmas in their own little bubble, they can still share the fun without risking anyone’s health through a video call. It may seem awkward at first, but you’ll get around to it and may end up actually enjoying it. Pro tip: practice family video calls before the actual family reunion. My cousins have been going on video calls to play online games or to have drinking sessions for the last few months. So, we should have all the tech details hashed out well before our Christmas day Zoom call.
5. Spend time with others who are in the same boat - This is definitely not a misery loves company type of advice, but it does help to find people who are also missing home. Last year, the local Filipino community in Auckland came up with a Christmas event with people sharing our culture’s food, songs, dances, and more. It felt so good to be in an environment that made me feel safe and understood. You can also join smaller immigrant groups if there are no big communities that you can join.
6. Make new traditions - This is a great way to distract you from the things you miss back home. Our little family unit of 3 people (myself, my husband and my daughter) started a new Christmas tradition last year of creating themed Christmas trees. Our first tree was a Pokemon one. Perfect timing because they introduced the Funko Pop Pokemon collection last year. Then, we also hunted down the old Pokemon Happy Meal toys from McDonalds -- those from the ’90s were particularly fun to look for. This year, we have our Sanrio tree up with mostly Hello Kitty filling the base and some other cool characters hiding in the tree. We start to plan our themed tree early on -- usually by August, so we have enough time to look for the ornaments and to decide on the other decor.
7. Be in the present - Spend time and deepen your connections with the people you are currently with. It may be new friends you’ve made in another country or your smaller family unit, whoever it is, be in the present with them. Talk to them, share how you feel, and find out if they’re going through the same. You might find that you are not alone if feeling a little blue during the holidays. You can then plan how you can get through this hump together.
Dorothy said it best: “There’s no place like home.” but there are some ways to make life easier when you are away from it during the holidays.