Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Christmas away from home

Having spent much of her young adult life overseas, Lynn McDonnell has found herself in Nepal, Korea and Australia for four of the past five Christmases.

Tue, Dec 20, 2011, 15:09


Having spent much of her young adult life overseas, Lynn McDonnell has found herself in Nepal, Korea and Australia for four of the past five Christmases.

Christmas in Nepal

As this year drifts to an end and Christmas is on our doorstep, I turn to thinking about the festive season. Christmas of course is unavoidable in the capitalised world, as all of our senses are repeatedly assaulted by towering decorated pines, red Santa faces dangling from shop fronts and re-mastered versions of old Christmas songs piped from bars and shopping centres. I am not complaining, as I am a self-confessed Christmas obsessive that often cannot wait until December 1st each year when I can play ‘White Christmas’ and watch ‘The Grinch’ without judgment or cynicism.

Having spent a lot of my adult life to date traveling and living away from my home country, it is inevitable that I have spent Christmas in countries that have very different traditions, climates and food than those of my childhood. Overcoming the innate need to be with family on the biggest annual celebration, I try to embrace and accept the traditions or lack thereof of my nominated host country and enjoy Christmas regardless.

One of the most unique Christmas gestures that I have been grateful for in recent years took place in Kathmandu, Nepal. A hectic city and hub of activity, Kathmandu sees more than its fair share of poverty and corruption. More often than not, electricity works for only 7 hours a day, on at sunset and off again at sunrise. But Christmas Day was different. As it turned out, some thoughtful members of the local council agreed that in order for people, the majority of whom were visitors, to enjoy Christmas, sparkling lights and music were essential and therefore electricity was compulsory.

Renting a DVD player and watching some old Christmas movies in the morning, I took advantage of the city’s decision to leave the electricity running for the 24 hours. Calling home from the local Internet café at a reasonable hour and walking through the rarely lit up streets were little privileges that enhanced my Kathmandu Christmas. Fitting in with the age-old adage that nothing comes for free however, Kathmandu was without any electricity at all for the following three days. As the streets reverted back to darkness and the sound of generators once more pumped through the air, the sacrifice of having electricity for Christmas was apparent but for this obsessive, it was worth it.

Spending the day of indulgence in Perth in Western Australia last year, there were clear differences between the celebration of Christmas in the land down under and that on the other side of the world with my family. One major variance and debatable advantage is the climate. My Irish Christmas is cold, windy and sometimes snowy, resulting in lots of time spent indoors watching movies, eating chocolate and napping on the lounge. Christmas Day in Perth can be among the hottest of the year. As a result, roast dinners and chocolate are not very apt and the time is spent outdoors in swimming costumes, preferably near a pool or on a beach and eating salads and seafood. Although significantly different from what I am used to, there are undeniable benefits to having Christmas outdoors.

Despite every effort to make it home this year for my feed of snoozing sofa moments, it is unfortunately not feasible. I have just finished a 4-month trip along the West and North of Australia that climaxed with a stint on a cattle station in Arnhem Land. Although this was an unforgettable and non-regrettable experience, the cost of such a trip ensured that I would not be flying the long haul trip home. It is another Australian Christmas for me and many many other Irish alike, and although I will be taking full advantage of the sunshine and sand, it is a second choice.

The emotional traditionalist in me will always enjoy the perfect Christmas at home with the family, eating roast turkey and honey-glazed ham, taking trivial pursuit on its annual outing and over-indulging on wine and cheese. I have inadvertently managed to spend 4 of the last 5 Christmases in Nepal, Korea and Australia, a trend I wish to change. Embracing Christmas traditions in other countries however has been more than endurable, it has been enjoyable and it has eased the homesickness that can emerge during this red and green day of feasts and presents.