Celebrating Christmas as an Expat: Decorating

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As an expat living abroad in Taiwan, I have little in terms of experiencing all the wonderful holiday decorations that those back at home fill their storage closets with in anticipation for the season. Here the reds, golds, greens, and silvers take up all of about three shelves in a shopping row. Starbucks will put a small tree up in some out of the way corner, some snow frost on the windows, and break out their winter cups. Beyond that, the holiday decorations are pretty slim.

Each year, I appreciate the feeling that I get when I am surrounded by the energy of the holidays even greater than the year before. Those moments of holiday warmth are rare in Asia, so decorating my own apartment has become a new tradition (and challenge) for me.

Decorating a Tree

Last Christmas my mom sent me a small Charlie Brown tree with a few ornaments to start my decorating. Her little tree became the center point of my holiday decoration. It might be small and a little bare, but it instantly brings the room into winter. It is also a good excuse to buy those imported candies that I love. Not to mention that it packs away nicely for small spaces.

I would like to eventually decorate my tree with ornaments from around the world to bring a bit of wanderlust into the holiday season.  If someone would like to send me a small ornament from their country, I would love to send you a small ornament from Taiwan!

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Stockings with Names

Stockings are the epitome of the season. Ever since I can remember, my mother would decorate our living room with large stockings. She would use fabric paint to write each of our names on them (so that Santa would remember whose he’s filling, naturally). Even our pets would have their own stockings. Of which, the good (mother) Santa would stuff these full of goodies every Christmas Eve after the rest of the family had gone to bed.

I might not have much of a living room (in fact, I have to hang my stockings over my flat screen) or my own family, but I still write my name on my stocking and hang some decorative ones alongside. You can also be sure that Santa (sadly using my bank account) fills my stockings with goodies.

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Homemade Holiday Cards

Another way I bring the holidays into my expat experience is to create my own homemade holiday cards. I find ideas online and then create my own patterns. Taiwan has great paper shops with lots of paper and pen options. To keep from getting burned out in my DIY card making, I normally rotate through 4-5 different card designs. It might not be as polished or sparkly as the ones custom-made or found in stores, but they are hand-made and are so much fun to make while listening to Christmas tunes.

Winter-Specific Candles

There are always those smells that remind us of home. My mother used to burn cinnamon apple candles throughout our home during holidays or when having guests over. So besides going to the Ikea store for just winter candy and cider, I also pick up several apple cinnamon candles to burn. Instantly, I’m 10 lying under the Christmas tree wondering what Santa will bring me and dreaming about my mom’s Christmas dinner.

Holiday Decorating Tradition

Lastly I knew that being an expat and someone who will most likely move around several more times, I just couldn’t sustain boxes of decorations. It’s hard to part with things you have memories with and any decoration I bought would forever become a part of my memories of Christmas in Taiwan.

So I resolved to only add 1 or 2 items of decoration to my collection every winter. That way, each remains special and selective as well as remains packable when I decide to move again. In limiting myself, I have created a tradition of scoping out my options around the holidays, laughing at all the awful choices, and then creating a long-term vision of my winter decorations. Along the way, I have discovered that I love traditional design over anything else and prefer quality over quantity.

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How do you decorate for the holidays as an expat? Do your decorations remind you of specific years or experiences?
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4 thoughts on “Celebrating Christmas as an Expat: Decorating”

  1. We have a fake tree and make ornaments along with the crappy ones they sell here. 🙂 We love it though. Strangely enough the one thing we cannot find is a tree topper. We will be in Taipei next week… hopefully we can find one there.

    1. The stationery stores in Shida Night Market and then Carrefour both have pretty decent holiday decorations and cards this year! It’s funny because you are going to Taipei soon and I will be going to Bangkok next month! I wanted to go to Phuket and the islands but so far I just don’t have a good time just yet to squeeze in everything I want to do haha. Safe travels!

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