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Holidays Abroad - Holidays in Malawi

Posted on 04 November 2017

Halloween has quickly passed and it got me thinking about all the holidays I’ve missed since living abroad.

Halloween was a challenging one for me, mostly because I’m not creative enough to come up with an elaborate costume made from easily accessible materials, so I went with a cat. Ok fine, judge me if you want to, but I didn’t have much time to prepare, and it’s not like I can go to a costume store to pick out the latest costume. I don’t have spare clothing I can cut up and piece together, I don’t have fake blood or hair dye that I can buy at a drug store. I live in a village, and even the “big” city has limited resources when it comes to costume ideas. In most parts of the world, Halloween is not a thing, like a lot of North American holidays that we cherish so much. Funny enough, I don’t really miss them.

Next up is Thanksgiving in the United States. Last year, I celebrated with a bunch of Peace Corp. volunteers who lived in villages around my area. It was an experience trying to get the proper food in order to cook some sort of a Thanksgiving feast. The electricity was off all day, which meant we had to cook on the local charcoal stoves. No roasted turkey, or vegetables, or anything else that needed an oven. We managed to make some amazing garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, chicken, canned beans (that was an improv), and all in all, it turned out to be quite the meal.

Last year, I spent Christmas in my village with no family from back home. I had never had a Christmas without family and it was an amazingly humbling experience. Seeing people from the village dress in their very best attire, listen to music blasting from the broken speakers in the trading areas, and chatting with friends was their extent of Christmas. I did not receive a single gift, but instead, spent the night with some friends I had made in the village. We made a delicious meal and it was a “Christmas Miracle” we had electricity all evening. I taught them how to cook “western” food and we ate, chatted and danced the night away.

My birthday is really close to Christmas, but in Canada my family always managed to do something special and celebrate my birthday. I was in the capital city of Malawi (Lilongwe) for my birthday last year, and I went to a nice restaurant with one of my co-workers. Like Christmas, I did not receive a single gift, or card. Lots of love was sent from my family back home, but nothing in-county. I do have friends here, I swear! But Malawians (especially in the village) don’t celebrate birthdays, most people don’t even know when they were born. The culture is slowly starting to change and the younger kids are starting to know, but when you grow up with no calendar or phone, what’s the point of knowing a birthday anyways?

One thing that all these holidays abroad have in common is that it brings people together no matter where you live in the world. We don’t always have the fancy decorations and foods that we can get at home, but it’s an experience to try and make things work with what you have, and it usually turns out quite well! People who are fortunate enough to be with loved ones during holidays are truly lucky. But also, coming from an expat who has missed countless birthdays, Thanksgivings’ and even Christmas, it’s not the end of the world if you spend a holiday without family, it actually gives you an opportunity to view holidays with a totally different outlook. One that is very humbling.

Happy Travels,


Co-Founder Global Citizen Designs

Global Citizen Designs

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  • Jess: November 10, 2017

    This year is my first Christmas away from my family and I’m not sure how I feel about it! I know it will be fine but I just need someone to watch Love actually with!

  • Marvi: November 09, 2017

    I have only spent holidays without my family once before and it was sad. Christmas, I believe, are best spent with family back home ;) Nevertheless, life brings us situations that makes us wiser and independent. Kudos to you for seeing a different perspective on your current set-up. I hope you have more enjoyable holidays in Malawi! :)

  • madhurima: November 09, 2017

    Even in India, birthday celebration were very different earlier. After the British it became main stream. I like the picture where you are cooking with the woman from the village. I guess that is what make a travel experience worth remembering. Live like a local!

  • Leticia: November 08, 2017

    i find very intersting that malawians don’t celebrate birthdays. That’s what I love of travel: you discover new cultures and traditions (or no-traditions) that you might never think about before.

  • Madhu: November 08, 2017

    Liked reading your post. Although being with family is great but spending time in the village would hv really given a new perspective.

  • Savvi: November 08, 2017

    One of the hardest parts of living abroad is definitely missing the holidays. My family doesn’t have a ton of traditions, but we always spent Thanksgiving with our extended family and then played football in the front yard. And now I live in a country with no Thanksgiving. Or American football. haha

  • Annie: November 08, 2017

    I totally agree! I spent seven years in Tanzania and every holiday/birthday/Christmas was an experience. It actually was a bit more special as everyone else knows what it’s like to be away from family – quite a few orphans were taken in over the ‘festive’ period!

  • DeDe : November 08, 2017

    I’ve never spent a holiday abroad, but I do spend most of them on a trip somewhere wild. I love the sentiment of this.

  • Unta: November 08, 2017

    I love my birthday. It is so strange to find out that some people don’t celebrate birthdays, or don’t know when they were born. Lovely post. :)

  • Sage: November 08, 2017

    As Thanksgiving approaches and I get excited for all of the amazing food ahead of us, I’m impressed by your resourcefulness to create a meal out of the tools and ingredients on hand in Malawi!

  • Christina: November 05, 2017

    Hello from a fellow Canadian! I love what you said about holidays bringing people together no matter where you are in the world <3 I had to spend Christmas away from family for the first time two years ago and I was so devastated, but a group of friends and I celebrated together with the best meal ever and it turned out to be just as lovely (in a different way). Hope you have a great time with American Thanksgiving!

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