Here’s the secret to overcoming homesickness when you’re stationed overseas

Can you imagine October without pumpkins? November without Thanksgiving? Fall without football? I never could… until I lived overseas. Then I had to find creative ways of overcoming homesickness and celebrating holidays I missed.

It wasn’t until I lived outside of America that I realized how much of the Fall season is a cultural celebration. We take it for granted that everyone around us knows what a pumpkin spice latte is, or Halloween costumes, or fantasy football. That’s what it means to be American! Yet in many parts of the world, ‘pumpkin spice’ is a foreign language.

How to celebrate fall overseas

We lived in Spain for three years on military orders. Overall, it was a wonderful experience, and I loved Spanish culture. I wrote about the joys of living and traveling in Spain in my book, ‘Welcome to RotaOvercoming Homesickness When You're a Military Family Overseas .’ I expected that some of the holidays would be different. We knew the Spanish had unique Christmas traditions, and that it would be hard living so far from our families then. But I didn’t expect to be sentimental about… Autumn. I was surprised by the waves of homesickness that hit me every Fall. Overcoming homesickness is an important skill when you’re stationed overseas.

a guidebook for military families moving to Naval Station Rota, Spain

“I was surprised by the waves of homesickness that hit me each Fall.” ~The Seasoned Spouse

Overcoming homesickness when the weather is different overseas

The weather certainly didn’t help. I grew up on the East Coast, with leaves that change colors. September is when the nights turn chilly, the corn is harvested, and the kids go back to school. Local farms set up Corn Mazes and Haunted Hay Rides. My parents had an apple farm, so Fall meant picking apples, pressing cider, making applesauce and pies. It’s a season of warm drinks, flannel shirts, and football games.

But not in Spain. In Spain, there are palm trees and beaches. The kids don’t go back to school until September 15, because it is beach weather until then. There are no hay bales or corn harvests or haunted houses or football. And…there are no pumpkins. The Spanish knew that Americans have a weird interest in pumpkins, and they would try to offer me squash or gourds instead. It’s hard to explain what is so important about a large, round, bright orange pumpkin. But somehow, we Americans have a hard time getting through the Fall without pumpkins.

celebrating fall overseas

Traditional Spanish food is delicious… but not a pumpkin in sight!

Overseas, the seasons are different, and so are the holidays. #milspouse #PCS Click To Tweet

Nevertheless, we all made it through, with cans of pumpkin from the Commissary, tiny pumpkin crafts from MWR, and Trick-or-Treating in base housing. We even invited Spanish families to come onto base for Trick-or-Treating. They thought it was so cool to be part of an American holiday! The Spanish families really focused on the dark and gory side of the holiday, so they would come decked out in elaborate costumes, complete with creepy makeup and dripping blood. They told me that Halloween was a lot like Carnival (which is like Mardi Gras), but with candy instead of alcohol. I have to admit, they have a point.

“When you live overseas, you have a choice how you celebrate the holidays… as an American, or as a local.” ~The Seasoned Spouse

Overcoming homesickness when the holidays are different in other countries

When you live overseas, you always have a choice in how you celebrate the holidays. You can either try your darndest to celebrate the American holiday in full American tradition. Or you can adapt and embrace your local country. Yes, you can order almost any holiday supply online. You can stock up on canned pumpkin and cranberries from the Commissary, starting months in advance. You can have family in the States mail you pumpkin spice Oreos and limited edition M&M’s. You can watch your favorite movies on AFN (American Forces Network) television, and gather American friends for all the traditional celebrations. There is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, you need a little dose of America overseas.

celebrating fall overseas might mean adapting to local traditions

But you can also do so much more. Instead of bemoaning the lack of pumpkin patches and hay rides for your little ones, look around at what the local culture is doing. In Spain, autumn was a continuous string of celebrations. They didn’t have pumpkins, but they were amazing nevertheless. Our local town had a huge festival for the patroness, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. There were parades of decorated horses, with music and dancing in the streets.

The following week, there was a Medieval craft fair. The kids ate roasted turkey legs, watched a magic show, and made their own little pottery jars. A few weeks later, the neighboring town had a wine and sherry festival with flamenco shows. Then there was a food festival honoring local fish. Columbus Day is a national holiday in Spain (since that is where he sailed from), so there is a huge military parade in Madrid. The Spanish don’t celebrate Veteran’s Day or Thanksgiving in November, but they do have the day off for All Saints’ Day. Bakeries make special treats, and families pack picnics to take to the graveyards.

Overcoming Homesickness When You're a Military Family Overseas 

Get your head out of pumpkin-spice daydreams, and see the opportunities around you! #milspouse Click To Tweet

Once I got my head out of my pumpkin-spice daydreams, I realized that there were plenty of fun fall events all around me. I started to experience what it really meant to live overseas in Autumn. No, there weren’t many pumpkins or cranberries. But there was a lot more. There was history, tradition, art, culture, music, dancing, food, and a lot of fun! I made some wonderful friends who shared their Spanish traditions with me. And I enjoyed sharing Halloween and Thanksgiving with them.

It wasn’t the same. It wasn’t always better. But overcoming homesickness was worth it for all those new experiences. Those experiences of Fall overseas were unique. Years later, I can smile at them, and savor them more fondly than a pumpkin spice latte.

Have you celebrated a holiday overseas? What did you do?



  1. Lead With the Left (@leadwiththeleft)

    My family wasn’t military, but when we lived overseas my mom brought a collection of seasonally-scented candles and tablecloths. The scents were familiar and made especially fall and Christmas feel more homey when it was so hot out! The tablecloths were fun and easy to pack.

    • Lizann

      Those are great ideas! Those little touches van make the holidays feel a lot more like home. Thanks for reading!

  2. Kaitlyn @ Powered by Sass

    I’ve never celebrated a holiday overseas, but I’m sure I will at some point during my relationship seeing as that my boyfriend is in the military. The holidays are huge for me. October-December are my most favorite and cherished months full of ALL THE HOLIDAY THINGS. I will say that I’ve gotten a taste for other cultures’ way of celebrating since meeting my current boyfriend. It’s pretty cool to broaden your horizons and experience something outside of your comfort zone, especially during the months that are so precious to most people rooted in tradition. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lizann

      Hi Kaitlyn, thanks for reading. I love your attitude. Yes, it’s a big adjustment and it’s easy to feel homesick. But it’s also really cool to experience new things in another culture. If you get the chance, just be brave and make the most of it!


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