Returning to your home country during the festive season can have many positive sides to it – family times, friends to see, fun traditions to keep, the weather that you are used to for the time of year… And yet it can also be particularly stressful when you’re in re-entry. Why? Because of all the expectations that fly around, because of your inner state during your transition, and because it’s hectic. Let’s pause to reflect on the time of year, the things that may be hard, and how you can keep yourself sane.
We all have expectations. But I think possibly none are as strong than those connected with the festive season and holidays. Christmas. Thanksgiving. Ramadan. Whatever celebration it is, we have expectations about how we would like to celebrate it, who with, what it will be like, etc. And even more so in re-entry. If you have been away for several years and your extended family has had to celebrate without you, perhaps they think that finally they will have you sitting with them for their festive meal. And that it will be like old times. Perhaps they expect you to join in as you always did before you left to go overseas. To find the same jokes funny. To enjoy the same movies.
But you have changed. Maybe you have been living surrounded by poverty and find the very thought of the tinsel and trimmings abhorrent. Or maybe you enjoyed the lack of glitz and the possibility of working out your own way of celebrating. Perhaps you have had some amazing Christmases away from the pressures of family. You have been with people you chose to be with instead of those you were expected to be with.
Whatever your experience, it is worth having a think about your expectations of family and friends for this time. What do you expect of / from them? What do you want to do / what do you not what to do? And in the same way, can you open up some conversations with them – what are their expectations of you now you are back? Do they expect you to spend the whole fortnight with them? Or to get on with your own thing? Gently getting expectations on the table early can help everyone to compromise and find a solution that suits most of you.
Traditions are important in most cultures. And if yours have changed, they can produce clashes. We lived in a Muslim country, hence Christmas wasn’t celebrated and we could start from scratch and work out what we really wanted to celebrate and how (and when we started to put up decorations etc.!). We decided not to include Father Christmas / Santa Claus because he wasn’t an important part of Christmas for us. When we came back, we had to explain traditions in the UK to our children. My mum felt that we had taken away the magic from Christmas by not sharing this with them and took them to Santa’s grottos etc. which just confused them. We also had to be careful that our children didn’t share their lack of belief in Father Christmas with other children, who believed in him until much older.
We thoroughly enjoyed being able to spend Christmas day with a mixture of different expats, playing games and enjoying each other’s different takes on Christmas. Coming back to a culture of just seeing family on Christmas day was really hard. But in the years we have been back, we have slowly built up a new set of traditions based on both sets of experiences.
If you have children, what do you need to explain to them about Christmas in your home country? What traditions have been important for you while you’ve been overseas that you are unlikely to be able to keep in the same way back home? How could you incorporate some?
Re-entry comes with a mixture of emotions. Sometimes you need to be with other people, and sometimes you need to withdraw. In the intenseness that arises over holiday time, it can all be rather overwhelming. If you have come back from a tricky / stressful situation, the last thing you might want is to be surrounded by lots of “family” asking lots of questions that you don’t really want to answer. Sometimes it’s best just to take time out. One re-entry, we rented a cottage and had Christmas on our own, just the two of us: it had been a particularly gruelling few months leading up to our re-entry, and we had come back at the end of November, feeling all over the place. Our families graciously accepted our need for space.
Work out how to look after yourself
Self-care is particularly important during the festive season on re-entry. Work out what you need. How can you meet your needs whilst also being sensitive to your extended family’s needs? Where do you need to put boundaries down? How can you take care of you when it is overwhelming or full or exhausting? The more you can look after you, the more you can interact with the people that matter to you, and make it a fun holiday for all of you.
What can you do to stay sane during the festive season?
29th November 2017