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Making the most of Christmas abroad

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December 17th, 2011


This article is more than 13 years old.

Two expats explain the value of a positive attitude during the festive period – celebrate your traditions but also embrace the Danish ones

People often ask Stephanie Keller and Stacy Townsend how they survive Christmas.

“Survive?” they answer. “Well first of all, ask a better question!”

Keller and Townsend are life coaches and co-own S2 Strategic Skills in Copenhagen. They help both businesses and individuals develop skills within a coaching framework, helping them to find their own paths to achieve personal and professional goals.

Keller and Townsend believe that youÂ’re 100 percent more likely to implement a change if you find it yourself. Perspective is key, and the holiday season is no different.

“When we use the word ‘survive’ we’re assuming the negative,” said Keller.

“When we assume something will be negative, we put our attention on what is going to be wrong, what is not going to work. And guess what? We are going to get exactly what we put our attention on!”

Nine years ago, Keller was experiencing that negativity first-hand. She married a Dane and moved to Denmark, but loathed her first few Christmases here. After growing up in a relatively small family in Britain, Keller was accustomed to a light Christmas celebration with little tradition. Her husbandÂ’s family, on the other hand, took the holiday very, very seriously.

“It completely overwhelmed me,” Keller said. “We didn’t have any rules back home about how Christmas should be.”

Many others feel the same way. Christmas revolves around unwavering family traditions, and even the slightest disturbance can cause homesickness. It’s surrounded by conflicting expectations, from whether you celebrate on the 24th or 25th to what kind of foods are on the table and – the big one – whose table is it at the first place? Add in-laws to the equation and Christmas can become more stressful than it should be.

But KellerÂ’s cure for the stress came when she was referred to another established coach, Townsend, who was also an expat. Through their coaching relationship, she discovered her Merry Christmas goggles.

“On December 1 of every year, I put on my Christmas goggles,” she explained. “I decided that I’m going to stop prejudging Christmas and look at it from a completely different angle.”

Rather than lament the cultural differences of Christmas, Keller puts herself in a positive mindset. She understands that things might be a little bit different but is open to these new experiences.

“Through coaching I came to accept that you can’t change everyone else,” she said. “So I ask myself: ‘What do I need to do differently?”

Her approach has benefited many internationals in Denmark. “Because of the impact coaching had on my life I wanted to bring this to other expats,” she said.

S2 has since grown and developed and now works with companies and individuals, both expat and Danish, helping them learn to see the world from a different perspective – one that moves beyond the challenges and into a better life.

To create your best Christmas, S2 recommends bringing in some of your own traditions and settling on a compromise. Whether its stockings on Christmas morning, ham for dinner, or dancing around the Christmas tree, every culture does things differently.

Moving to a new place shouldnÂ’t force you to lose all of the comforts of home, and sometimes the best solution is a combination of traditions. This helps both parties appreciate one anotherÂ’s holiday heritage and puts the entire day at ease.

As they have both learnt, it all starts with a positive attitude. A positive attitude normally makes for a positive day, and vice-versa.

Welcome Christmas with open arms and you may find that it returns the favour.

Fact file| S2Â’s Christmas tips

Accept that you may not get everything your way. Perhaps this is easier said than done, but once you truly accept it, everything else gets easier. Honestly.

Negotiate a solution that meets some of the expectations of all parties involved. For instance: alternating where Christmas is celebrated, expanding the Christmas dinner by bringing dishes from both cultures, and celebrating Christmas twice – Christmas Eve in the Danish tradition and Christmas morning with stockings. The more celebrations, the more fun!

Try out the Danish tradition of wish lists. You not only embrace a tradition thatÂ’s important to your Danish family and friends, but you also save your time – a precious commodity at this time of year.

Enjoy the Danish festivities: Christmas in Tivoli, gløgg in Nyhavn, dancing around the Christmas tree, Julebryg (the Christmas beer), pebernødder (mini cinnamon cookies … yummy!) or even host your own Julefrokost (Christmas lunch).


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