The holidays away from home can still be merry and bright

There is something surreal about hearing “White Christmas” playing in a mall when it’s plus 35 degrees Celsius outside.

That disconnect for my first holiday season far away from home made me wish, more than anything, to be on a plane back to Canada.

Sudden bursts of homesickness are not rare when people are far away from home, at a time when everything is telling us that home is where we should be.

The holiday season is stressful enough with finals, school work, and expectations from family, and doing it all on your own for the first time can be daunting — it’s hard to know where to start.

According to Julie Egers, a registered psychologist with SAIT’s student development and counselling services, the urge to isolate can be tempting, but it’s not a healthy way to cope with the holiday blues, especially if this is the first time you’re on your own.

 “It can be really helpful to plan to do one thing a day,” said Egers.

“Having a routine is good for people’s mood.”

If you’re feeling a little blue this season, these ideas might help you get into the holiday cheer.


Holiday activities are in full swing at the Core Shopping Centre in Calgary.
Photo by Jp Pitogo

1. Potluck Dinner with Friends

Sure, you might be missing out on a favorite dish that nobody makes quite like your aunt, but having a potluck dinner with other people who are also on their own during the holidays can create all new favorites. 

Jonathan Gregor has spent a few Christmases far from his home in New Brunswick, and says he is looking forward to another year of new tastes, and experiences with his friends in Calgary.

“Sharing the things I enjoy and watching people try them for the first time is a great feeling.

“It’s so much fun to see what everyone else literally brings to the table.”

It’s also a great way to have some company for those big days and connect with classmates and community, says Gregor.

2. Volunteer your time

What greater way to spread some cheer this season than to help out someone less fortunate than you are?

Whether it’s sorting through gifts for Calgary firefighters to give out to low-income families, filling hampers at the Mustard Seed, or collecting warm clothes and blankets for Project Warmth, lending a hand can make a huge difference, not only in your own holiday, but in so many others as well.

There are many ways share your time and effort to help with an event or charity, and getting connected with Propellus Volunteer Centre could be a good first step to finding a volunteer opportunity.

3. Be a tourist

Haven’t checked out the new Central Library yet? 

Been thinking about going skating in Olympic Plaza?

Eying up Peter’s Drive-In for a famous milkshake? 

The holidays are a great time to explore the city and your neighborhood, especially if it’s still relatively new to you.

“Treat it like a vacation,” said Egers. 

“Maybe it’s time to be a tourist.” 

Getting out and exploring isn’t just a great way to kill time over the break, it’s also a good way to start feeling more at home in your new city.

It doesn’t have to cost much – even a walk around the block to get some fresh air can be rejuvenating, and remind you that there’s a whole city out there, off campus.


With December only a few days away, stores and malls are gearing up for the holidays with Christmas decorations, as well as deals and discounts for gifts. (Photo by Jp Pitogo)

4. Make new traditions

Meld the old with the new and see what you come up with. 

When you’re far from home for the first time, homesickness is hard to avoid, but taking small familiar things and mixing them up with the new city around you can help a lot.

It can be anything from going to the movies on Christmas Eve and seeing the cheesiest Christmas movie that’s playing, to making a specific dish that you love from scratch just for you. 

Even if it’s not a traditional holiday dish, it can be your traditional holiday dish.

Sydney Galanos started making cupcakes on a whim during her first Christmas on her own, and now it’s her favorite part of the holidays.

“I started with simple ones, but every year they get more complicated and more fun,” said Galanos.

This year, she’s working on chocolate antlers for reindeer cupcakes.

Whatever you come up with, make it a part of your plans for next year and the year after that too. It gives you something to look forward to during holidays to come.

5. Phone home

Whether it’s FaceTime, Skype, or another way to connect with family back home, do it during the holidays. Just because you’re not physically there doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of the party. Technology makes it easier than ever to bridge the gap and connect. 

Connections are important, and reinforcing them, even over a distance, can make things feel a little homier.

Whatever you decide to do to brighten your holiday mood this year, the important thing to remember is to reach out if you think you might need more help, said Egers.

Spending time alone to rest and recuperate is a healthy choice, but when that feels like the only option, it’s time to reach out, she said.

“If you’re not getting out and it’s not a choice, then there’s some cause for concern,” said Egers.

While SAIT’s offices are closed for the holidays, the SAIT help line will redirect to the Distress Centre Calgary — 403-266-1601 — which will be open to offer anyone help if they need it. 

There will be a list online at SAIT’s website of services that are open during the holidays that also links to other self-help resources. 

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