Spending Our Christmas Holidays Abroad

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Christmas is always a special time for our family. In past years, we’ve celebrated Christmas with my siblings in Seattle, with my parents in Spokane, or with my in-laws in San Diego. Now that we’re a worldschooling family, we celebrate our Christmas holidays abroad. It certainly is a different experience for us!

For us, Christmas is the time of year to spend with those we love. And while we are far away from our loved ones while we travel, we try to find ways to still make the holiday season magical and special. For traveling families spending the Christmas holidays abroad, finding ways to maintain holiday traditions on the road can help make this time of year less lonely.

This post was updated on May 19, 2020.


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Celebrating the Christmas holidays abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico
A nativity scene in Guanajuato, Mexico (December 2018)

Spending Christmas holidays abroad

We’re not new to celebrating Christmas away from home. We once spent Christmas Eve in a small town in the middle of Texas, where our Christmas Eve dinner consisted of gas station hotdogs, and our night was spent at a cheap motel just off the freeway.

Fortunately, our Christmas that year was redeemed by having the most fabulous Italian dinner at a restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Christmas Day. I always refer to that Christmas as “The Saddest Christmas,” even though it did end on a good note.

So while we do have experience spending Christmas away from home, it wasn’t until we started traveling full time did we experience spending the Christmas holidays abroad.  In 2018, we spent Christmas in the Mexican city of Guanajuato. And in 2019, our Christmas was celebrated in the city of Denpasar, on the Indonesian island of Bali.

In both cases, we were thousands of miles away from our family, and even far away from some of the friends we’ve met during our travels. We needed to find ways to hold on to our holiday traditions, despite being far from home.

Celebrating Christmas holidays abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico
Dancers performing on the street in Guanajuato (December 2018)

Maintaining our family holiday traditions while travel

One of our family Christmas traditions has always been to watch the ballet. As someone who spent sixteen years studying classical ballet, I always love watching performances of The Nutcracker. It brings back memories of my childhood! While we were living in Seattle, I often brought my daughter to watch the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s performances of The Nutcracker.

When we were in Guanajuato, we weren’t been able to find any performances of The Nutcracker. But, we did find a Disney-themed Christmas ballet performance put on by a local dance company. We were quite impressed by the quality and talent of the dancers. While it was not The Nutcracker, it certainly did put us in the holiday spirit.

When we were in Bali, our family came down with a bad case of the flu. So we weren’t able to seek out dance performances. Instead, we played the Nutcracker soundtrack in our home, and baked holiday cookies. We still tried to maintain the Nutcracker holiday tradition in our own way.

Checking out the giant Christmas tree in Guanajuato (December 2018)

Decorating our space for Christmas holidays abroad

One of our other holiday traditions has always been decorating a Christmas tree. Since we stay in Airbnbs during our travels, we can’t put up actual Christmas trees. But our kids do end up making their own trees. And we proudly display them on the wall of our Airbnb, so that Santa knows where to put the presents!

And of course, Christmas isn’t complete without presents! Even though we spend Christmas away from home, we still maintain our tradition of giving presents. Because space in our bags are limited, each family member receives one or two small gifts from the family, and one small gift from Santa Claus. It’s our way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive, while still practicing minimalistic travel.

If you have space in your bag, packing some Christmas lights can help make bring some holiday spirit to your space. Alternatively, you can pack along some holiday-themed window clings to stick on the mirrors of your hotel room or vacation rental.

Christmas tree drawn by children celebrating Christmas holidays abroad
Our daughter’s rendition of a Christmas tree (December 2018)

Learning about local holiday traditions

We’re lucky to be able to spend our Christmas holidays abroad. In Mexico, we learned a lot about their holiday traditions. The country is full of rich cultural and religious celebrations, especially at this time of year.

One of the biggest Christmas traditions in Mexico is La Posada, a celebration that happens in the second part of December. La Posada, which literally translates to “the inn” in Spanish, is the reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus. Traveling from inn to inn, they were constantly being refused a stay, and eventually all they could find was a manger. Mexicans celebrate La Posada by going door to door singing carols, led by Mary, Joseph, and a donkey. 

Another Mexican Christmas tradition is the pinata. Mexicans celebrate Christmas by putting together big family gatherings. And during these events, seven pointed pinatas, to represent the seven deadly sins, are filled with candy for the kids to play with. For our family, we bought our own pinata at the local market, and broke it open on Christmas Day.

Celebrating the Christmas holidays abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico
People dressed as Mary and Joseph for La Posada (December 2018)

Adapting to our Christmas holidays abroad

The key to celebrating Christmas away from home is finding ways to make the most of where you are. When we were in Mexico, enjoyed learning about the cultural traditions. And in Indonesia, we got into the Christmas spirit by playing holiday music in our home.

In many places, winter activities may available for families to take part in. Both in Mexico and in Indonesia, ice skating rinks were set up in public areas, so that locals can enjoy ice skating. We enjoyed spending an afternoon ice skating with our kids. It made it seem like we were back in the United States!

It’s natural to feel homesick during this time of year. But finding ways to make this time special for your kids can help combat this homesickness.

Creating Christmas memories for our family

There is no doubt that our kids will remember the Christmases we are spending on the road. Years from now, our Christmases in Mexico, Indonesia, and whatever country we find ourselves next Christmas will still be talked about by our kids.

While we miss our family dearly, we know we’re so lucky to be able to experience the Christmas holidays abroad. We also know that we will see them again in the future. And this thought makes our time away less lonely.

Have you celebrated the Christmas holidays abroad? Share your experience in the comments!

Spending Our Christmas Holidays Abroad | The Wandering Daughter

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12 Responses

  1. Love the ways you will keep traditions alive even if they aren’t the same. The pictures the kids drew of the tree is too cute – I’m sure it will be a different experience and will be one you will never forget 😉

    1. We usually spend Christmas with family too. But our family is spread out across the United States, so we usually have to pick and choose who to spend the holidays with.

  2. My husband has been in the military for 9 years, and each of those has been spent away from “home” with several abroad. I think that it’s been a beautiful experience and allowed us to experience the holidays around the world in different ways! This year, we are in Florida and will spend Christmas by the beach. Two years ago, we were in Alaska just outside of Santa’s house in North Pole, Alaska!

    1. Wow, what a unique experience for your family! I bet the kids were excited about being at the North Pole when you guys were there.

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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