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  • Writer's pictureSarah Tian

How to Thrive During the Holidays

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

It's the holiday season again, the time we're supposed to take a break from work, celebrate with family and friends, and feeling jolly. But this is precisely why many of us feel a little blah during this time because realities often fall short of our expectations for what holidays are "supposed" to be like.

Growing up abroad nearly all my life, away from my extended family back in China, I have first-hand experienced of what it's like to never have experienced the proper of celebrating the Chinese New Years (the biggest Chinese holiday when you are supposed to celebrate with all your extended family).

Now that I've been living away from my immediate family for more than 10 years, I have also experienced what it's like to celebrate birthdays and major life events away from family, far from what these events are "supposed" to be like.

Like everyone else who is studying/working abroad in the U.S., I have also experienced numerous Thanksgivings where all my American friends go back home, and I have no home to go back to.

Over years of struggles and finding ways to cope, I have grown to accept and even embrace my circumstances, and find my own ways to truly enjoy the holidays.

Below, I highlight some of the most effective ways of coping and thriving through the holidays that will help you navigate this holiday season regardless of your circumstances:

💡 1. Connect with others

We tend to believe others are having the perfect holidays and we are the only ones struggling. For example, we all have an ingrained image of the perfect Christmas day of a family of four dressed in matching ugly sweaters, cheerfully opening their presents under the perfectly decorated Christmas tree by the fireplace with socks hanging with each family members' initials.

This naturally makes us compare with the realities of how we intend to celebrate (if at all).

You may be feeling a sense of pity for yourself, or a hint of sadness, that your holidays will be different from everyone else's. Well, I'm here to tell you that you are not alone. In fact, I don't believe there is a single person out there who is celebrating these holidays like you are "supposed to"...only in a perfect world that does not exist?

You never know what others are really going through. Just like they will never know what you are actually thinking and feeling during the holidays.

There are people who are away from family, struggling with a physical/mental illness, have family members who are struggling, lost loved ones and can no longer spend any holidays with them, don't get along with family members, financially struggling, etc.

The list goes on.

The truth is everybody has their own struggles.

Therefore it's especially important to connect with others during this time. By openly sharing about your own struggles, you will instantly make others feel connected, and they will also start to share their experiences!

Share in ways that feel comfortable to you. This could be through writing and posting on social media, talking to a friend you trust, or just sharing anonymously on online forums.

Reach out to those who are going through a tough time. Make time to catch up with them. Simply asking them, "How are you?" and listening to their stories will show that you care about them.

💡 2. Create your own traditions

I know its tempting to try to copy what the media portrays you should do to celebrate the holidays. That is a recipe for disappointment. There is just no right way to celebrate. You don’t have to do what you see others do; you get to decide what the holidays means for you. Accept the reality of your circumstances and make the most of what you have.

For example, while we never get to spend Chinese New Year with all of our extended family in China like you are "supposed to", we celebrate by making dumplings and eating dinner with our Chinese friends while watching the 4-hour long Spring Festival Gala. We make sure to say "Happy New Year" to our relatives in China in our group chat and express our best wishes for the new year.

Another example: Given the limited space I have living in dorms and apartments, I have opted for a mini-Christmas tree that I bought at Target back in my freshman year instead of getting a real Christmas tree. This mini Christmas tree has been with me for 10 years, moving with me wherever I go. Every time I take it out of the storage, it brings back memories of good times in college.

💡 3. Plan time for yourself & do what you love during the holidays

Holidays are often about devoting time to others and making others happy. So it's even more important to set aside some time just for yourself and do something you love!

For example, growing up I've always loved to read mystery and detective fiction. I recall flying back to China during summer and winter holidays and buying Detective Conan books to devour on the plane back to Hungary. This has become my personal ritual to read a mystery fiction over long holidays. This year, I plan to listen to the audiobook of Silent Parade during my plane rides and I can't wait!

What’s something you love to do that you could incorporate into your holiday celebrations?

Read this article to get inspired by what you loved to do as a child!

💡 4. Do something new!

Is there something you've really wanted to do that you didn't find the time to? It could be exploring a new place, starting a new hobby or trying out a new recipe. This will make your holiday this year extra memorable when you look back on it in the future!

I remember one winter break I was alone in the dorm all by myself in the bitter cold Minnesota winter. I decided to try something new. So I grabbed the box of leftover pastels and created my first abstract pastel drawing! It had an icy blue patterned background with bright colored shapes scattered across the page, inspired by the winter and holiday season. This instantly brightened my day and planted a memory of joy in place of loneliness!


I hope this article helps you thrive and inspires you to make the most out of what you have this holiday season!


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