As a family living away from your home country you need to make your own traditions and whilst this is important, so too is a sense of continuity. As a child, my husband and I held Christmases that followed a very familiar and lovely pattern with all our family coming together for the day. Now, Christmas for us and our son is very different but just as special.
As a permanent expat family with both sets of grandparents also living lives as expats in France and the US, family Christmas takes on a more virtual nature. I have a friend who was an expat child in Hong Kong back in the early 80s and she eagerly waiting for airmail letters containing old news while speaking to her grandparents just twice a year – Christmas Day and her birthday – due to the massive cost of overseas telephone calls.
Now in the era of social media, Skype/FaceTime and email, we are more connected to distant family than ever before. My son can open his Christmas present from his grandparents on Skype so they can share his delight firsthand. You could even livestream the whole day if you wished.
Instagram gives people a daily snapshot of your life, Facebook means you can share your every thought. Back in 2008 I started a personal blog to share our new life with people 'back home' and I still keep this up with a whopping five readers, who all love to see what we are up to. Sometimes it means that things are old news by the time we speak but it offers family such a connection with our real daily life, even if it's just a couple of iPhone snaps of the school run.
My son sees and speaks to his grandparents every week, he has virtually baked cakes with my mum and showed his entire day's work building a train track to his Grandpa. His connection with far-away family is enormous thanks to the internet. He treasures the times he has in person with them but for the most part they are watching him grow up via technology that allows him to sing them a Christmas song he has just learnt at school or show them something he has made.
When my parents first moved away from the UK almost 15 years ago I found the change incredibly tough. We spoke on the phone every week but I didn't really feel I had a connection with their new home. In-person visits were infrequent due to work commitments and they only share a few photos. With the technological advances we have today, I would have been able to have received a guided tour of their new home via Skype, seen their faces more often and been able to read their expression and know they were okay.
By choosing an expat life you are by default choosing to be distant from your family. Many family members who feel left behind can struggle with this as do the expats themselves. Moving to a new country without a support network is hard even if you relish the adventure – and holidays really amplify this feeling.
These days, despite the distance, moving away doesn't mean a complete disconnection from family and friends. Of course we miss the physical proximity, the hugs, the smiles, the moments of comfortable silence and breaking bread together – there is just no replacement for that – but the internet makes this just a little more bearable, especially over the holidays.
Melanie Haynes is originally from the UK and has lived in Copenhagen for eight years. She writes about life in Copenhagen on her blog Dejlige Days and after experiencing relocation to Copenhagen and Berlin, she runs a settling-in service aimed at helping expats called Dejlige Days Welcome. Her ebook, Dejlige Days: A Guide to relocation, will be published in January – sign up here before 18 December to receive three chapters free before the book comes out.