Expat tips: Celebrating the holidays alone

I was having a conversation with Giulio this morning when he mentioned that I attach exaggerated expectations to my birthday. I’ll admit my birthday is the most important day of the year as far as I’m concerned and I say that as someone who is close approaching the big 3-0. It might be a little childish, but I think your birthday should be the one day when everyone pampers you and goes out of their way to do something special. Unfortunately I’m married to man who is allergic to birthday parties and happen to live thousands of kilometres away from all my friends and family. Lucky me!

But this post isn’t another excuse for me to whine. Instead it’s another expat survival guide with tips for celebrating those special occasions when your guest list is so small you can count it on one hand and sometimes on one finger. I’m not just talking about birthdays, but Easter, Christmas, New Year’s, any holiday alone or in small company.


Just because you don’t have a big brood of people to invite over, doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate. Even if it’s just you or just the two of you, make the effort to go somewhere special and celebrate over a meal. Visions of the Mr Bean episode where he opens the birthday card he wrote to himself at the restaurant come to mind. If you simply can’t handle the idea of a table for one, prepare your favourite meal at home and dress to the nines just for the sake of it. If you don’t go to the effort to make the day special, it won’t be.


A birthday without a cake is frankly not a birthday. I’m fortunate enough to have former bakers for parents-in-law, so they provide the cake, but sometimes your other half needs reminding, especially if he’s Italian. Italians are particularly lacklustre when it comes to parties and he (or she) may be culturally inclined to think you’re too old for a cake. Make sure they know otherwise or make your own if you’re celebrating your birthday alone.


With said Italian slacker, it often falls to me to find something special to do on my birthday. Sad, I know, but the man once forced me to go to the local marching band’s annual luncheon on my birthday and it was perhaps the most depressing experience of my life. Suffice to say, I’m in charge of the festivities now. It might be as simple as a movie or a day at a spa or a trip to a destination you’ve been dying to see. Since you don’t have a bunch of people coming over for lunch, you can decide what to do on your birthday alone, which is actually pretty great.


I don’t do this enough, but I really should. Start your birthday by video chatting the most important people in your life. You can use Skype or Facebook. They both do a bang up job and they’re free. A video chat is so much nicer than a simple phone call and can really make your celebrating your birthday alone seem not so bad. You can also have cam chat with strangers as you can make new friends and have fun.


Simply because it’s your birthday doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself to a gift. This is coming from the girl who once got an SD memory card from her husband for Christmas. And this article is shaping up as a pretty strong argument for leaving said husband. If you want it (and can afford it) buy it. Sure money doesn’t equal happiness, but it’s a close second. While we’re on the subject of presents, don’t be embarrassed to tell your other half exactly what you want. Let the SD card be your warning.


If you manage to make it home once a year like I do, don’t miss the opportunity to throw a belated birthday party. I do it every year and everyone thinks I’m nuts. My birthday is in November and I get home in late December, which is fairly convenient. I make the effort to go out with my friends and have a birthday dinner just like I would if I had been at home and I have lunch with the family. If anything, it’s a great way to make sure people buy you presents!


Celebrating your birthday when there’s no one to celebrate with is frankly shit. I know. I’ve celebrated every birthday overseas for the past decade and as great as Giulio is, he’s no full blown family party or night out with the girls. There are only two ways you can get through it. You can mope, which was my mood of choice for the first five years or you can overdo it with the pep and parade. Any holiday alone isn’t going to be perfect, but your attitude can really make a different.

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