One of the loneliest mornings during my time in Lima was that of my birthday, when I saw via social media that Bloomington had a massive snowfall. I love winter and missed my twin sister, making a normally happy day a tougher one. However, one of my happiest days was when I celebrated Thanksgiving with my host family and friends - American and Peruvian and even German!
Holidays abroad can tend to be some of the most challenging yet fulfilling times during your study abroad experience. Each person and each place celebrates in different ways, which offers a fantastic opportunity for cultural exchange!
Don't try to force traditions onto this new place and experience.
As beloved as your traditions from home might be, don't cling to them too tightly while overseas. I've spent four Fourth of Julys overseas, and no ex-pat celebration quite compares with the neighborhood parades and fireworks I'm used to from home. My Thanksgiving in Lima did involve turkey and sweet potatoes to the best of our ability, but pumpkin was impossible to find and we celebrated on Saturday instead of Thursday since we had class. However, our picnic on the Malecon overlooking the ocean was my most memorable Thanksgiving yet, despite having a bit of a twist on the traditions.
Share your culture.
Holidays can be a beautiful time for cultural exchange. How are birthdays in your country celebrated vs. birthdays in the United States? Can you share a favorite Christmas recipe with your host family as they make the turkey for dinner? Teaching your local friends about celebrations in the United States can offer you a chance to also learn about how they celebrate, and maybe you'll even adopt these customs. This Christmas, I know that my roommate (who was in Peru with me) and I will be making Peruvian hot chocolate along with our Christmas cookies.
Find out how locals celebrate a certain holiday or tradition.
Certain holidays that are celebrated in your country abroad might not be a big deal in the United States, or might not be celebrated. Take the time to learn about local holidays and participate in whatever way you can. In Spain, I travelled to Sevilla for Semana Santa (or Holy Week) to watch the solemn processions with thousands of other Spaniards from around the country. It was an experience that I'll never forget, and that is completely unique to Spain. Similarly, el Señor de los Milagros (The Lord of Miracles) is not a celebration in the United States, yet Peru's processions to celebrate during the entire month of October are some of the largest in the world. By taking note of local holidays, you can get to know your new home even more.
For most people, holidays have always been about people - being close to family and friends during special times of the year. It can be hard to not be homesick, but use the opportunity to become closer to the people in your life abroad!