How to Celebrate Christmas When Home is Hard to Find


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Christmas lights and decorations lined store windows and decorated the walkways all through the city. It was beautiful. Even the airport sparkled! I heaved my overstuffed carry-on up onto my shoulder and set off to find my gate. Holidays. What were they to me?

This year I spent Thanksgiving abroad. This blog post was written as I sat sipping a latte in a famous Finland café. By the time I returned to the states, I had approximately three weeks in my own house before I packed my car and drove the ten hours to my parents home for Christmas.

Is Christmas worth celebrating, for me?

Do I want to figure out how to haul a Christmas tree back to my apartment and then set it up and decorate it all by myself? I could get friends together to help me decorate, but these days even my close friend group is incredibly transient as they all either travel for the holidays, too, or are married and starting their own traditions.

Some days I long to just simply do the same things with the same people for a few years in a row. The stability of tradition calls loudly to my heart.  But is it worth it? Worth it to decorate and outwardly celebrate for the three short weeks I’m home before I’m on the road again? It would be so much more practical to just wrap the gifts for the family and then get into the Christmas spirit when I visit my sibling’s and parent’s homes and play with my darling niece. Right?

It would be more practical, yes, and a lot more simple; but would it be best?

I don’t think so.

If you are a single sister, or simply have a lot of movement and transience in your life, I’m writing this for you, for us.

Will you join me as we explore why traditions and celebrating Christmas through differing activities is important for us, the transients?

Pull up a chair, grab a cup of your favorite tea, cocoa, or coffee, and read on.

Seriously, pause and go grab that mug, it’s good for your soul.

Got it? Okay, good!

(And if you are the me of a few years ago and you just kept right on skimming this blog after smiling, but not pausing for that drink, it’s okay. Keep reading, because sister, this is especially for you.)

Why Pause to Celebrate Christmas?

As Christians, Christmas is when we celebrate Christ’s birth. Or more specifically: Advent, the coming of Christ. By definition, Advent means the arrival of a noticeable, person, thing or event, and within Christianity the anticipation of the second coming and return of Christ.

By definition alone, Christmas gives us the transient, busy, or untethered ones two notable reasons to pause and fully celebrate Christmas and participate in traditions:

1. Christ is for you.

2. Traditions are good for your soul and spirit.

The older and busier I’ve gotten–the more years that have rolled by without an immediate family of my own to help create traditions and Christmas practices in my life–the more the idea has subconsciously formed that Christmas is for others. It’s something I go and celebrate with far away family, it’s the production I help put on for church or things I do in a ministry context, it’s a party I attend at a friend’s home.

This idea that the joy of Christmas is centered around doing things with and for others is not wrong in and of its self, but Christmas is about so much more than that.

In addition to Christmas being about the joy and traditions we share with others, it’s about the joy we share with Christ. Our personal relationship with Him–that He came for us, and chose us–should be the reason we celebrate Christmas more than anything else. As Christians, Christ came to save us, redeem us, and be in a relationship with us. Christ is for you personally to celebrate!

Christmastime should be just as much about celebrating our connection and relationship to Christ as it is about any other thing we do or relationship we have.

We should look at Christmas similar to the way we would celebrate an anniversary with a spouse or a friendiversary with a close friend. Christmas is the anniversary of when Christ came for you. Christmas is the present experience of Immanuel, God with you, and the anticipated pause and reflection that He is returning for you. That is the foundational reason we can celebrate Christmas, no matter how transient and ungrounded our lives feel. He is the grounding and consistency for us that becomes our foundation in a world of movement. And that is so worth celebrating!

Christmastime should be just as much about celebrating our connection and relationship to Christ as it is about any other thing we do or relationship we have.

This summer, a small verse in Mark deeply challenged the way I was living. It has changed the way I view Christmas and the effort it can take to celebrate:

“For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.”
(Mark 14:7 ESV)

I will always have people who need me, always have good things to do for others, and yes, I will in a broad sense always have the enteral Christ with/in me, but I will not always have today with Christ, or this particular Christmas with Him. My tomorrows are guaranteed with Him, but I can miss today. I can miss out on Immanuel, which is Christ with me in the present and knowing Him while it’s still called today.

Thus Christmas is becoming for me a season of celebrating my relationship with Christ and cultivating intimacy with Him. Pausing while all of life rushes on to know Him in this moment.

So how do you practically pause to celebrate when your life is full of movement?

Simple traditions have become my answer. A tradition is something that is meaningful to you that you do with consistency. It’s a rhythm and at the same time a grounding, something you come back to.

I enjoy Christmas traditions now. Why wait to celebrate traditions until who knows when? You don’t need a family of your own or family close by to have traditions; they can be things you do with the Lord, or friends, or for you. Traditions also have an odd and comforting way of helping us become us–knowing what we do, and why we want to do it. There is no age, time, ceremony, or rule that limits when traditions can start. Traditions start when you create them, or when you adopt a family tradition and carry it on yourself.

For the transient at Christmas, traditions are the glue that attracts the glitter of joy to your celebrations.

I have two traditions that I look forward to every year.

I go to at least one Christmas concert just for me–not one that I’m helping with or involved in, but one I can go to and simply enjoy. I’ve started going to a Christmas concert at a college more than an hour away. It’s not only beautiful, but it takes me away from the crazy busy of my life. It’s a drive and it’s a pause.

And every year for the last four years, I’ve read Ann Voskamp’s Advent devotional The Greatest Gift.  (I highly recommend it!) No matter how long the day, I grab a cup of tea, sit next to my Christmas tree, and read. It is literally the thing I look forward to the most about Christmas. It’s a tradition that is celebrating and investing in my relationship with the Lord. It’s a holy and peaceful place. And when I travel, a book is an easy tradition to pack!

Transient Traditions

Here are a few more ideas for transient traditions that can happen in any place, with people young or old–whether you move to a new town every year or still live with your parents. To further inspire you, I’ve noted what the traditions have looked like in my life.

  • Do something for you (like a Christmas concert).
  • Do something for others (make neighbors fudge or cookies).
  • Do something you can invite others into (be the one to throw a party, or host a gingerbread house making night).
  • Read the same book every year (like The Greatest Gift or one of the titles in this list).
  • Keep an Advent journal and read the previous year’s entries.
  • Give the same type of gift every year for a friend or sister (matching pajama pants, etc.).
  • Design a new Christmas tree theme every year or add a new ornament to your old collection.
  • Make the same recipe (gingerbread house, family fudge, or breakfast brunch).
  • Stop at the same rest stop or restaurant when you travel.

The possibilities are endless, but what matters is that the tradition matters to you.

Christ came for you, too. You matter to Him as much as the other people for whom you are celebrating Christmas.

Pull out the decorations, invest in your Christmas, and celebrate it with gusto! It is worth it.

(originally published in 2016; edited from the archives)

Photography: JenniMarie Photography

One Comment

  1. Good ideas! As a missionary abroad it’s been hard to come up with new traditions, and even harder now that I’m married. But when holidays are stripped of traditions, it does make it easier to focus on Christ!

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