My First Christmas as a New Repatriate – One Big, Gloomy Mess

image of Christmas Decorations in Las Tablas, Panama
Christmas. . . a time to celebrate and enjoy the company of loved ones. . . beautiful lights and decorations. . . music. . .

Or, maybe, not so much.

Medical professionals know that, around Christmas time, depression increases. The days are shorter and there’s less sunshine (at least in the part of the world I come from), which affects our biology and our moods. Then there’s all the emotional baggage. . . We feel as if everyone else is having this wonderful, joyous time while we’re just overstressed, overworked, and with overly active expectations.

Not a good combination.

In Panama I learned, for the first time, how to plan Christmas with friends instead of family, and have a lovely time.

Our first Christmas in Panama we enjoyed both. Our youngest daughter flew down over her break. Panamanian neighbors invited us to join them Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day itself we got together with friends at another friend’s house. Everyone brought food, and we had a terrific time.

Our second Christmas in Panama we planned a special evening out with a group of close friends. We got dressed up and went to the nicest hotel in Chitre, where we enjoyed a festive meal in nice surroundings. Again, we had a terrific time.

This year we’re in the US, and, frankly, not having a terrific time. One of our sons spent a couple days with us the weekend before Christmas. He and his wife stopped off on their way to spend Christmas with her family. And on Saturday, we’ll join my husband’s family for some post-Christmas festivities.

Christmas Day itself was just me, my husband, and the dogs. We’ve just moved into a new house, we have no friends in the area yet, and I was feeling very sorry for myself.

I lost both my parents in the 18 months before we moved to Panama. This past summer, my uncle left us. He was my last surviving relative of that generation, and it’s left a big hole. Our kids are scattered. Two live on the West Coast and three in the Northeast. This Christmas, one is in Alaska with his girlfriend and her family. One is in Puerto Rico. The others aren’t able to travel over the holidays.

While I’ve proven to myself I can enjoy Christmas without my kids, trying to do it without kids or friends really threw me for the proverbial loop.

We decided to go see a movie on Christmas day, and discovered that going to the movies on Christmas has become a thing. Both the films we were interested in were sold out for the entire day.

So we went for a drive, saw some things we hadn’t seen before, then had dinner at an Indian restaurant that was open near our house. We got through the day, but honestly, it wasn’t very enjoyable.

Now that the holidays are over, I’m starting to see that some of my angst was a result of the repatriation weirdness that’s part of returning “home” after living abroad. Repatriation brings its own set of emotions, somewhat similar to what you go through when you expatriate. We’ll be talking about that a bit over the coming months.

In the meantime, best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year.


  1. We’ve gradually done less and less for Christmas over the years and, now that we’re traveling, I imagine the celebrations will rely more on where we are. Last year we were in Granada where we had many new friends and spent the day volunteering in a neighborhood where we taught English for the next 3 months. This year, in Cartagena, nada. We decided to mark the day with a fancy meal and call the family. If we could have found a movie theater we would have done the same thing you did!

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