Driving home for Christmas… except when I can’t…

For many people, being with family is what makes Christmas feel like Christmas. Third Culture Kids are no exception. In fact, in the midst of a life-time of transition, family often represent constancy, familiarity, home.

“I’m driving home for Christmas
Oh, I can’t wait to see those faces
I’m driving home for Christmas, yea
Well I’m moving down that line
And it’s been so long
But I will be there
I sing this song
To pass the time away
Driving in my car
Driving home for Christmas”

The gathering of family is an important ritual that reminds us of our history, invites our significant others into our present, and launches us into the new year secure and hopeful. Except when it isn’t. Or it would be, but we can’t do it.

When family isn’t home

I’m sorry. This is hard. No family is perfect, but some family dynamics are more imperfect than others. Where there is hurt, secrets, abuse, violence, separation or rivalry in a family, it becomes hard or even impossible to go home. So how to feel ‘at home’ this Christmas? Identity your triggers. Name them. Perhaps they are people who bring you down, or certain situations or events that generate anxiety. Acknowledge them. And then respond to your triggers. This is not fixing them. Or eliminating them.

Instead of squashing out sad or stressed feelings around family, remind yourself it’s okay to have them. These feelings are just as valid as joy or excitement, and they are trying to keep you safe, by sounding an alarm. Heed the alarm, respond to it. If you can’t avoid all that generates stress at this time of year, and chances are you can’t, then build in buffers. If visiting family isn’t something you feel you can avoid, then make sure a long bubble bath and some luxury chocolates await you after the visit. If we can acknowledge, without shame, that something is hard, we can then treat the symptoms, and keep well. So yes, I am saying the chocolate is medicine 😉 Unless food is a stress trigger for you… in which case a manicure or a favourite movie might be preferable buffers.

Then name the things that feel like ‘home’ to you. These don’t have to be restricted to the building you live in! Home might mean heat and tropical flowers. So find botanical gardens you can visit and soak in. If you have green fingers, bring these into your home. If you don’t, take photos 😉 For me, it’s baking. If my home has baked goodies in pretty tins, I’m happy. And at home. It’s one of the first things I do in a new place to make it home. Once you can name these ingredients of ‘home’, you can make sure you have plenty in stock, especially over the holiday season when we can feel the loss of family as home more keenly. Invest in the things, activities and people who make you feel at home. Squirrel them away for the hard times, to ensure long-lasting peace and settledness.

When family is home, but we can’t get to them

This sucks too. In the immortal words of Winnie the Pooh, we feel “lucky that we have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”, but being told to feel grateful about that doesn’t really help get us through. Finding ways to connect, to belong, even at a distance, however, can help get us through a holiday season without our nearest and dearest. What traditions do you feel saddest about missing out on with family? That goofy play you always put on with siblings? Video yourself with finger puppets and do all the voices yourself this year. Then share it with them. Write cards that you know will make them cry (!) Or at least be as open in expressing your affection for them as you are comfortable with. Missing out baking together? Do your own baking… take pictures and share them with family – connect through either your success or failure in the kitchen. Then share the goodies with friends and neighbours.

One idea that I love, is to write letters to be opened on different occasions or for different needs. Actually, think care package more than letter. This blogger describes her approach, but it can easily be adapted for different members of the family. If it’s too late to mail out for Christmas, consider spending some of your Christmas preparing this to send out for New Year. The process of gathering together words, funny images or cards, song lyrics and small symbolic gifts will help you feel connected to each family member you write to.

And that’s the point – the connect. If you are a Christian, then the Christmas holidays represent an opportunity to remember the ultimate connection – Jesus coming to earth to reconcile man to God. If you are not of faith, then the holidays still represent connection – community, belonging, home.

Maybe you can’t drive home for Christmas this year. But maybe home can come to you.

Maybe you need additional support finding home? For a free consultation, and to find out more about how Life Story can help you understand your past for a more empowered future; contact me here.





  1. Dan Elyea says:

    Awesome sauce, Dr. Rachel! Reminds me of the bittersweet line from the song that goes, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” Merry Christmas, Dan

    • Dr. Rachel Cason says:

      Thanks for reading, Dan! Sometimes our hopes or expectations of Christmas do render it somewhat dream-like… but dreams can be a lonely place… Wishing you a very merry Christmas 🙂

  2. Lisa Enqvist says:

    Great ideas. I’m glad I don’t have to travel anywhere for Christmas. In my childhood, Christmas never had a chance to become a tradition for my first eight years. We moved so much. My first we must have been with grandma and grandpa. The next, on board a ship in a storm on the way to China. Third, having just arrived as refugees from Manchuria to Kunming, there wasn’t much to celebrate. In Ceylon, Sunday School Christmas and our Christmas pageant in school with the English Carols was the real Christmas. Every Christmas I received at least one new book. I guess books have played an important part in my Christmases.

    • Dr. Rachel Cason says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Lisa! That’s a good point about tradition… it does take some stability to build this. Our main traditions were stockings laid out for Santa Christmas Eve… very portable 😉 We still do them today 🙂

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