How To Survive Christmas When Living Abroad

Christmas time can be a little hard when you live abroad, far from all your family. This was the time of year where my family always got together. Each day in a different house but all with the same purpose: eat lots of food, have a laugh, swap presents and just spend quality time together. And I loved this time of year, I still do – but now it is different.

On October the 7th of 2013 we moved to England. December of 2013 was probably the hardest Christmas I had. I wasn’t crying or feeling (too) sad but we where alone. It was me and Miguel, my fiancé, in an old flat provided by the nursing home that we used to work at. A flat with no heating with a shared kitchen. And it was our fist Christmas away from our family.

I guess it was harder because we weren’t here for long. It had been only two months since we arrived to the UK so it was literally just me and him and for us that were used to spending Christmas with our big family, it was hard. Very hard.

And although this is our fifth Christmas away from our family, it is still hard. It just never feels normal not to have my family around. Last year we were very lucky and went to spend New Year’s with them and it was so good, I felt so blessed. But we can’t do it every year so we have to find our way of surviving Christmas without them and try to make it feel as special as it would be if we where there. Here’s how we do it.


Everytime I go back home, any time of year, I bring some food that I can’t get here. All the traditional stuff that makes us feel at home in England. And Christmas is no different. So the last time we go home before Christmas, we bring some traditional biscuits and even drinks that we normally have at this time of year.

I also cook a lot of food that I would have back home too like “Carne de Vinha d’Alhos” or some desserts my mum would cook.

For Miguel, he loves to have a quite different breakfast either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – a steak with fried egg and a sausage with coffee or cocoa. Don’t ask me, I also find it strange but it was is tradition at his house so we do it too.

These little things make a big difference to our Christmas.


Although this isn’t something I do every year, it can make a little difference to our Christmas. Just the fact of wrapping something for our family turns this season a little bit more special.

I normally try not to send big stuff or too expensive in case it gets lost but sometimes the little things are the best ones. I am very gutted that this year I did send some Christmas tree ornaments – personalized with our family photos – and a beautiful Christmas card to my mum, dad and brother and still after three weeks it hasn’t arrived. I am hopeless now, I don’t think that they will ever get it now and it makes me sad but I tried. Maybe it’ll get there after Christmas.


And I mean any other platform that you can use to video call your family. It is the best thing. Last year we were on Skype whilst we all opened our presents and this year will be no different if life allows us. It just makes such a big difference! Even if we aren’t giving anything to each other, I still like to see what my dad got for my mum or what presents my brother received. We just have a good laugh and it just adds a little bit of joy to our Christmas.


This might not work for everyone but it really helps me to thing of the next time I will see them. I know I’ll be going back in February and I am planning on buying a couple of presents to take with me. Thinking of the next time I am going to see them instead of focusing on not being with them during this special season does cheer me up slightly.


I am lucky to have found some good friends here in England, some of them Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, in the same situation as me and others English that take their time to spend a bit of their Christmas with us. They are my heart family, I called them. They are the family I chose, whilst living abroad. They are there through good and bad and spending Christmas with this family is also very special.

We cook lots of food – mostly Portuguese as my best friend Juliana cooks amazingly – and we buy each other presents to then get together at my house and have a great dinner, play monopoly, have a couple of glasses of wine and maybe watch a Christmas Movie. In between, we might ring our families or shed a little tear but we do spend great quality time together.

As you are reading this, it is Christmas Day and I will be working from 16h to 21h. But yesterday I had such good fun with them – it was only four of us this year because nurses do some crazy shifts at Christmas but it was still such a fun day.

And with this, we can still have a very happy Christmas hoping that we will be here next year again to celebrate it. How are you spending your Christmas this year?


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