By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Dec 06, 2010 at 4:02 PM

The holidays are all about spending time with family but Milwaukeeans who can't make it home often find creative and satisfying ways to celebrate on their own.

Hannah Arnold is wrapping up a semester abroad and won't be able to make it home for Hanukkah this year.

She found out while planning Thanksgiving dinner this year that tracking down American holiday food staples in Prague can be tricky.

"I had to order a turkey from a special British butcher a week in advance. I went to this huge super grocery store to find sweet potatoes," said Arnold, "I gave up on pumpkin after searching in a few places and just decided to make sweet potato pie."

While she misses her family, celebrating with her friends and classmates during the holidays has been some of the most fun she's had during her time in Europe.

"It becomes this big cultural exchange because I've been inviting people who don't celebrate the holidays," said Arnold. "All of the foreigners I invited to Thanksgiving had never been to one before so it was fun to show them what it's all about."

With no family or parents to satisfy, Arnold said her holiday celebrations take on a purely social bent.

"I won't do any of the real ceremonial stuff because I only do that to please my parents, so instead of it being a spiritual thing it just becomes an excuse to get drunk and eat a lot with my friends," Arnold said.

John Murn and his fiancee, dancer Mauriah Kraker, are in Taipei this year. Murn said during the holidays his friends abroad serve as a sort of surrogate family.

"For thanksgiving and Christmas especially, we find ourselves hosting or joining friends for dinner and drinks concentrated at one house. I suppose it's a stand-in feeling for being 'at home'," Murn said.

The time away can be difficult, but Murn said sharing the day with friends has helped forge deeper bonds with them.

"It's hard to be away from my family on holidays, not being able to hug mom and wrestle my brothers and lie around on the living room floor watching sports for hours," said Murn, "The best thing about spending those holidays with friends is that it really does imbue true friendships with a warmer, more dedicated bond."

Gifts from Murn's mom also help reinforce the holiday feel.

"A really great thing about being away is the Christmas care packages we receive from John's mom. They come complete with stockings to hang, new toothbrushes, Kit-Kats, and 32-ounce jars of Skippy peanut butter," Kraker said.

This year the couple will be traveling to Bangkok.

"I will be performing some solo work, John will be checking in on some of the drink menus he crafted for our friend's restaurants, and it will feel like any Christmas celebration: food, drink, reminiscing and relaxing," Kraker said.

Milwaukee transplants are also left to craft their own unique holiday celebrations in lieu of a trip back home.

Noel Farmer, company administrator at Skylight Opera Theatre, said she and her husband take advantage of the holiday by simply relaxing.

"We just kind of take it as a great day off," Farmer said. "When we are orphaned and in town it becomes less of a holiday 'got to rush and get to the family' into more of a relaxing day. Like a little vacation."