This year will be our second year celebrating Christmas in Japan. Last year was not only our first year, but it also was just 10 days after we welcomed our Cecilia into the family, so, needless to say, we were all in a bit of the newborn haze. This year we are looking forward to enjoying more of the local traditions and local celebrations.

Ryan and I have spent well over 12 holiday seasons away from family, so some may say we are experts, but there is always a bit of homesickness that can be felt around the holiday season.

For those of you who are spending your first Christmas away from family or abroad, here are some tips that we have come up with to make this season cheery and bright!

  1. Take advantage of friends who become family!

The definition of “framily” is friends that become family. Some people embrace framily even while living near their actual family, but for those of us who are raising our kids and living our lives very far from our family, our framily is so very important. Because of framily, we have spent many Thanksgiving in a full house and many birthdays and holidays surrounded by people who love our kids, love us and have become our family away from home. Put yourself out there, let someone know that you would love for them to come over for the holidays. Host a cookie exchange with the littles; have them decorate cookies while listening to Christmas Carols. Who knows, you may just find another family looking for their very own framily.

2. Immerse yourselves in local tradition!

When you live abroad, it can be so fun to find some local traditions and make them your own. In Japan, they have something called the Christmas Cake — this year Pepsi is even releasing a limited edition soda that tastes like the famous Christmas Cake. Since it is strawberry season over here, the cake has plenty of fresh strawberries and tastes similar to angel food cake with an amazing whipped topping. The Christmas Cake is a symbol of commercialism and prosperity, deriving from the fact that sweets were hard to come by after World War II. You can read all about the the Christmas Cake here.

Another tradition that is enjoyed in Japan is eating fried chicken on Christmas. Thanks to KFC’s “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) marketing campaign back in 1974, the country has embraced the buckets of fried chicken for their holiday meal. So much so that the local KFC usually sells out rather quickly, and it is highly recommended that you order in advance. We have not tried this tradition, but this year I think we may just order some KFC, kick back and enjoy spending some quality time together instead of working away in the kitchen for Christmas dinner.

Also, here in Japan there are ample light shows put on throughout the winter months including parks, botanical gardens and even stadiums filled with lights and usually accompanied by a nightly firework display. We like to celebrate by visiting as many of these events as possible to see the magic happen!

3. Travel

All those extra days off around the holidays mean taking advantage of traveling without having to take the leave days! And who doesn’t love that? While we like to be home on Christmas Day, we usually take a small vacation the week after. Living abroad gives you an amazing chance to see and explore your new country. Or country hop to a neighboring country to see what their New Year’s festivities are like. Not to mention if you travel during the holidays, you will be able to see how different countries celebrate the winter months, whether or not they celebrate Christmas. 

4. Don’t forget to pack your holiday décor!

Every year my mother-in-law gives me a new Jim Shore Santa collectible, and since my husband and I have been married nine years (and some years I get more than one), I have racked up quite a few. Nothing puts me into the holiday spirit more than unwrapping those Santas with my son and finding the perfect place for them. When moving overseas, it can be easy to throw the holiday decor into the storage unit and say “see ya” when we get back to the states. After all, every pound is precious in an overseas move, but trust me when I say that it is so important to bring a few items with you. Seeing something that reminds you of home or past holidays can make your home-away-from-home feel that much more cozy while you are away. I can not tell you how many people I have spoken to that regret not bringing at least one tote of decor with them. Now, a small part of me regrets bringing my NINE totes of Christmas decor, but hey at least my little helper has a lot of stuff to deck the halls with! 

5. Start your own family traditions!

Every year we watch White Christmas before heading to church Christmas Eve, and this is something that my husband and I have done ever since our very first Christmas together as a little family. Our son now looks forward to seeing all of the snow on the TV, since we have yet to live in a climate where we would have the chance to get a white Christmas and it has become a small, yet important Christmas tradition to us. When you get married, you are creating your own family with new traditions, new inside jokes and new memories. While it is fun to carry on some of your old family traditions and even mix yours with your souses, it also is important to start some new ones that you can carry along with you from house to house.

No matter how you spend the holidays, or where you spend the holidays, I hope they are filled with lots of love and lots of gratitude. Hug your loved ones close and always remember those who can’t be together for the holidays. We are so thankful for your service and your sacrifice! Merry Christmas!