The festive season may be a time for relaxing, vacations and gifts, but sometimes, this “most wonderful time of the year” can feel like anything but! We asks expats and Singaporeans who’ve been through it how to face certain challenging choices – and keep one’s sanity and savings intact.
Portuguese expat Joao Cabral recalls a trip home for the holidays in 2010: “It was unusually cold, temperatures plummeted and many European airlines cancelled flights. I remember walking through Dublin airport on Christmas Eve and seeing lots of people sleeping on the floor. My hire car was ‘snowed in’ and, because of the cold, the water pipes froze in my wife’s home. We had to go to her brother’s home just to take a shower! Since then, we prefer to travel home at Easter or during the summer. It’s just more practical with our young kids.”
While Joao’s family has come up with a solution that works for them, other expats – some on their first international assignment, or with loved ones living far from Asia – struggle to decide between the various where-to-spend-the-holidays scenarios this time of year. Namely, do you opt to stay in sunny Singapore, yet risk disappointing extended family and friends “back home” – and forego the festive traditions you’ve known and loved since childhood? Or, should you seize the opportunity to vacation around the region?
Spending the holidays in Europe or the Americas, for instance, may mean you need to invest in new winter clothes, pay high air fares, travel through airports at the busiest time of the year and fly halfway around the world – a combination that can really add on the stress, to say nothing of the jetlag!
With in-laws living in the UK, parents and siblings in the US and grandparents in Bolivia, American expat Marcela Tellez Glover takes a practical approach by rotating locations each year.
“We feel that budgeting, setting expectations and communicating clearly with our families has made planning for the holiday season less stressful, and gives everyone something to look forward to at different times,” she says.
This year, Marcela and her hubby and kids will spend Christmas in Bolivia with her side of the family, with her in-laws visiting Singapore during Chinese New Year.
Meanwhile, British expat Nicola Pollin is excited to explore more of Southeast Asia this time. “We’ve decided to go to Vietnam, and are really looking forward to chilling out and enjoying a different festive experience.”
NEXT: Dealing with holiday guests →
Hosting guests at any time of the year can be challenging, but somehow, the pressure just multiplies over the festive period, thanks to the hours put into researching things to see around Singapore, buying tickets for events and planning meals out at free flow holiday brunches, etc., etc.
Irish expat Michelle Colgan hosted two couples last Christmas. She recalls, “Our apartment is quite small and it felt over-crowded at times. However, we joined the guests on their sightseeing, and ended up exploring so much more of Singapore than we normally would. Having them here got us out of our usual routine.”
Having grandparents and siblings visit over the holiday period can also give exhausted parents a short reprieve: A two- or three-night couple’s escape to a resort in Bali, Phuket or Langkawi while the kids stay in Singapore getting spoilt by the extended family, can end up being the most amazing holiday gift ever!
NEXT: Money talks →
Once you tally up the holiday gifts, decorating, parties, stocking up on festive food and drink plus any travelling, your monthly finances can suffer a serious dent. You may have vowed to enjoy a quiet season without overspending, but a few weeks later, the festive fog overtakes you, and you find yourself spending hours shopping in Singapore’s huge malls and/or online.
One British expat recalls ordering Santa gifts for her sons from Amazon while jetlagged and wide-awake at 3 a.m. “A few days later, a tractor for my son that I expected to be 30 centimetres tall arrived, and turned out to be a mini 5-centimetre version, with a shipping cost of €30!” she reminisces with chagrin.
Indian expat Tulsi Karmakar and her husband say they successfully manage their finances for both Deepavali and the year-end holiday season by “agreeing on a budget upfront and keeping track of spending on a shared document,” she explains. “It takes discipline but it really works for us. If we have an unexpected expense, we discuss and tweak our budget accordingly.”
NEXT: Being grateful →
The commercial aspect of the holiday season can also become a burden for parents. Children tend to receive many gifts, and one can wonder how to teach children gratitude.
American Marcela shares her family’s approach: “During the year, our kids get opportunities to give back. For example, during their school holiday party last year, they wrapped books and decorated cards to send over to a school in Cambodia instead of exchanging presents. They also held a bake sale and adopted a tree to plant on campus. We feel that small, consistent acts of kindness become habits over time.”
Alternatively, Singaporean Elaine Kim buys her three kids exactly four gifts each – one to wear, one to read, one they really want and one thing they can do – to teach them to appreciate gifts. “I ask relatives and good friends who want to give presents to the children to get gift vouchers for department stores that can be used throughout the year. Those are great for buying clothes, school uniforms and toys, as the kids grow and interests change,” she says.
NEXT: To stay or to go? →
By Ruth Beattie, The Finder (Issue 289), December 2017
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