How to thrive during the holidays (even in a foreign land)

It's that time of year again...


A time of joyful gatherings, the smell of baking cookies, and—oh yeah—STRESS.

One of the things I love about being an expat is that, when you live in a predominantly Muslim country like Turkey, where most people don't celebrate or even know for sure when Christmas is, you get to decide how, when, and if you will celebrate.

It frees you to create your own traditions and rituals. Some years I have completely ignored holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I've been perfectly happy to do so. No crazy last-minute shopping or late nights baking cookies which were fun and festive for the first few batches but became drudgery after that.

But this year, for some reason, I'm feeling especially festive. So I put in for a vacation day on December 25th (because, yeah, that's not a holiday here), and proceeded to plot my holiday shenanigans.

Like many people, that means working the preparations in around work and other obligations. Now, I like the IDEA of baking cookies, but frankly, I get bored after a few batches. And there's no way I'm dedicating a whole day or even a whole evening to baking. So here's my messy little work around:


Last night I took a few minutes to mix up the ingredients I could ahead of time, and set out the recipe and any other tools I might need. Then this morning, while my coffee was brewing, I turned on the mixer, dumped what needed dumping into the mix and put the finished dough into the fridge to chill. After that it's a simple matter of finding the 10-15 minutes you need to bake a batch, either as a break from your day if you work at home, or you can pop them into the oven and have a finished batch in the time it takes you to change into your lounging clothes after work (you know we all do that, right?)

Pro tip! I choose snickerdoodles because: 

  1. they have very few ingredients which cuts down on shopping, measuring, etc. time
  2. everyone likes the cinnamony goodness
  3. it's fun to teach your Turkish friends to say "snickerdoodle".

Now, I'm not suggesting everyone needs to bake snickerdoodles or anything else. Some of my other plans this year include low-key gift exchanges and what I expect to turn into some very high-spirited Christmas day celebrating at a festive hotel brunch with friends, overlooking the Bosphorus.

I know some friends who normally celebrate are just not in the mood this year and so are having a low-key day at home. 

And that's the point:

You get to choose how you celebrate. 

You don't have to move halfway around the world to have the holidays you want. It's entirely up to you if, when, and how you celebrate.

So here's my challenge to you: stop doing that thing you dread doing this season. I promise the world won't come to an end, and maybe, just maybe, it will give you the time and energy to replace it with something more fun. Like teaching an unsuspecting foreign friend how to say a completely ridiculous cookie name.

PS: I'd love to hear from you. What holiday traditions do you struggle with? Hit reply to let me know.