Christmas is my favourite time of year. I will admit it – I love the kitsch of the lights lining the streets and houses, and of the Christmas music on the radio which inevitably play the Mariah Carey version of Santa Baby for the thousandth time. It is also the time of year when images of happy families surrounded by a warm glowing light inundate you. This is the perfect recipe to make any of us living far from home homesick.
I speak from experience. When I was sixteen and living abroad for the first time, I spent Christmas with my host-family. At the time I was coming to grips with my initial homesickness and the very last thing I wanted to see or hear about was the happy family spending Christmas together – I avoided Christmas like the plague. To cope I decided to look on my situation as a cultural investigation: to try to absorb and understand as much as possible about Christmas tradition in Germany. It was a learning experience and provided real insight; however, there was not the sense of ‘gemütlichkeit’ or coziness that Christmas with family for me engenders.
Since then I’ve spent another two Christmases abroad, one in Ethiopia and another in a different part of Germany. Both have been fascinating experiences of what Christmas is like in other places around the world, but again not really Christmas in the deeper sense.
Now that I have been living abroad for a number of years, I’ve decided to make a priority of heading home for the Christmas holidays, if circumstances allow. This year has been such a year and I write to you now while drinking a hot cup of tea from a very wintery Canada.
To those of you spending this Christmas abroad this year: soak it up – you have a fabulous opportunity to learn all you can about Christmas in that part of the world, whether it is celebrated by the majority or not. Who knows how many Christmases you will get to experience there – enjoy!
To those of you celebrating back home: take in the time with friends and family and relish every minute of it (alright, I realise there are some family members with whom this will be hard to do).
And to all: A very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a wonderful start to the New Year!