COVID-19: The Unwanted Christmas Guest

I have such fond memories of Christmas time. Growing up, I would go to my grandma’s house filled with my large Irish catholic family and followed that on Christmas day with my father’s family. It was our tradition.

Before moving abroad, the tradition continued for my children with my husband and I hosting Christmas eve. It was heartwarming to spend time with my family and see my children playing with their cousins and grandparents. It was what Christmas always meant to me.

Living abroad during the holidays has its challenges. Our first year in the Netherlands (pre-COVID), we did go back to my hometown. We were less than six months into living abroad so the familiarity was there, yet we no longer had a house to call our home. We had to deal with the simple details when away for the holidays like jet lag, how to pack clothes and Christmas gifts in our suitcases.

Fast forward to the last two Christmases. For many of us, we haven’t spent them with our families but instead, the unwanted Christmas guest of COVID-19.

Being an expat is hard enough in the holidays. Even if we go home, we inevitably will miss activities during the season. We may find it more difficult to keep traditions alive. We spend time ruminating in our minds when and where to go for the season. Add on COVID and it can feel overwhelming.

Last year, we suffered through the reality of spending the holidays in the Netherlands without extended family. It was difficult but we understood the reality of the pandemic.

While we were hopeful that COVID would be a one-time holiday guest, his annoying cousin, Omicron, has now crashed the party. Many of us are struggling as to whether to go home or stay here for what will be another quiet Christmas and New Year. Yes, there is more flexibility than last year, but the brain power used to think “should we go or should we stay” and the extra efforts that come along with travel during COVID times can be exhausting and frankly take away from the holiday spirit. It can really exacerbate the reality and homesickness of living abroad.

We are not going back to the states this year. Instead, we talked about going somewhere new (my husband wanting snow and me wanting sun) but procrastinated in booking since travel these days is tricky. Now we find ourselves in a Groundhog Day of last year.

For my family, we will stay in the Netherlands for Christmas. It was initially made easier thanks to a school calendar with holiday break starting on the 24th. However, the decision comes with a sadness that my children won’t have the same comforting and warm memories that I had celebrating the holidays with extended family.

Instead, we are focused on making new traditions that only come from living in the Netherlands. Eating olliebollen and visiting the Grote Markt Christmas tree during the season, visiting Christmas markets, making cookies for the neighbors, and celebrating Christmas with family favorite dishes, movies, and hopefully new adventures to warmer (or snowier) destinations once we get rid of that pesky guest of COVID-19.