Emigrant Christmases: ‘I miss home but I’ll whack on The Pogues and have a drink’

How Irish around the world are celebrating Christmas from Taipei to Boston

Clare Doherty: ‘Christmas on Waiheke is pretty special.’

Clare Doherty: ‘Christmas on Waiheke is pretty special.’

 

Thousands of Irish people around the world will be celebrating Christmas far from home. Many are finding ways to keep Irish festive season traditions alive while others are creating new ones from singing carols in the sea, eating the main meal at midnight, fireworks, munching tasty meals at barbecues in the sunshine to visiting the local prison. Irish Times Abroad readers share where and how they are spending Christmas this year:

Helena Murphy, Antigua Guatemala: ‘Everyone stays up until midnight ... to eat the main meal’

Helena Murphy with her family.
Helena Murphy with her family.

I’ve been living in Guatemala for almost four years now. I moved here with my then seven-week-old son and Guatemalan partner. We have since welcomed another baby boy to our Irish-Guatemalan family. This year we will be with our Guatemalan family celebrating on Christmas Eve. Traditionally here everyone stays up until midnight. If people fall asleep they’re woken up to eat the main meal of tamales, pierna (pork), drink ponche, open presents and set off fireworks. As our family is a mix of two strong and proud cultures, we also celebrate Christmas Day in typical Irish style among the backdrop of three volcanoes and summertime sunshine. It’s not the same as being at home in Kerry but we make it in our own way a special and fun time together. Merry Christmas.

Eoghan O’ Donoghue, Hamilton City: ‘Christmas is particularly tough being away from family and friends’

Eoghan O'Donoghue
Eoghan O'Donoghue

I work as a haematology registrar in Waikato hospital and unfortunately I can’t make it home for Christmas as I’ve been rostered on call for the days either side of Christmas Day. But I’m going to head up to Paihia in the Bay of Islands for Christmas dinner and a barbecue on the beach. I’ve been in New Zealand since 2017 and I’ve been enjoying every minute of it. Working in the health system in New Zealand is incomparable to Ireland, so I’m glad I made the move. Christmas is particularly tough being away from family and friends, and I’ll miss being home, but my brother came to visit for three weeks during November so that was a brilliant boost for me ... and on the beach in Paihia ain’t a bad place to spend Christmas.

Clare Doherty, Wanaka: ‘We enjoy singing carols in the sea at top volume’

We’ve lived in New Zealand for 25 years and I can honestly say I have grown to love Christmas in the sun. We live in Wanaka but we move to Waiheke Island for the holidays every year to our crazy little huts surrounded by trees. We cook the turkey in the local resident’s association hall, and everything else we manage on the barbecue. We are just a five minute walk to the beach and most Christmases, when the weather is kind, we enjoy singing carols in the sea at top volume. My mum used to swim every day in Portmarnock Beach so we toast to her memory - she would love it! I love Ireland and plan to split my time more evenly now that the kids are university students. But Christmas on Waiheke is pretty special. Merry Christmas to all.

Kevin Doherty, Richmond City: ‘I’ll whack on The Pogues and have a drink’

This will be my third year in America. I am 40 years old and since leaving Ireland as an 18 year old, I’ve only spent three or four Christmases at home in Derry. It will be our second in our new house we bought in Richmond and my in-laws will be here with us again. I’ve one brother-in-law who also lives here and the other in Mexico, and my parents in law in Mexico too who are also up. I’ll miss my family in Derry and Donegal, but we were back for Halloween so it isn’t too bad. I’ll also miss all my friends in Edinburgh, where I lived for many a mad year. I work in a brewery here and every day people ask me about home or tell me about a great visit they’ve had there, which is great but makes me miss it even more. But to help at Christmas I’ll whack on The Pogues and have a drink.

Niamh Costelloe, Boston: ‘It’ll be my first Christmas as an orphan’

This is the first year without both my parents – my mum died in May. Usually I would go back to Ireland for a couple of weeks and hang out with my family, but this year I have decided to start my own traditions and so I’m spending Christmas in Boston. I have presents wrapped and ready to go, and instead of a tree I have a large poinsettia in honour of my mum so I have the presents laid out around that. I have the crib I grew up with displayed in its glory, which is one of the keepsakes I took from the family home. Mary lost her arms a long time ago but they get reinserted every year. My boyfriend is Muslim and insists he doesn’t do Christmas. But what matters most to me is that I honour my parents at Christmas time. I’ll even be lighting the candle for the window this Christmas Eve. There is only the two of us so we’ll have chicken and stuffing, and all the trimmings. I’m looking forward to the break and the festivities but it will be with some misgivings as it’s the first one as an orphan.

Paschal Kearney: ‘For the last 20 years I’ve spent Christmas morning in the local prison’

I hope to spend the morning in the local prison. I am a chaplain so I will have a “church service” followed by lunch with inmates. I’ve been doing this for the past 20 years. Different? Yes, but it’s a privilege to be able to do it. I hope to meet with some local Irish friends in the evening, make calls to my family in Ireland, and, if time permits, have a swim in the nearby Indian Ocean.

Gary Healy, Christchurch: ‘Christmas just isn’t celebrated the same in New Zealand’

I’m originally from Cork, but living in Christchurch, New Zealand for the last seven years with my wife. This year we will be going to my wife’s parent’s house for a barbecue Christmas lunch. We initially were having everyone to our house this year, but my father-in-law is going through chemotherapy for cancer so we decided to go to their house. I work in the dairy industry, which is all year round, so I’m rostered on St Stephen’s Day so there won’t be too much festive cheer for me but I will certainly enjoy the warm weather. I will Skype family on our Christmas night, which is their Christmas Day, so I can speak to my nieces and nephews, and see how their day is shaping up. It’s been certainly an eye opener since I moved here as Christmas just isn’t celebrated the same down here and the weather been the opposite to what I’m used to so it’s still a novelty for me, but all in all it was a good move for my wife and me.

Ryan Coole, Dubai: ‘It feels great to spend Christmas with friends’

Ryan Coole will spend his third Christmas in Dubai.
Ryan Coole will spend his third Christmas in Dubai.

I’ll be spending my third Christmas in Dubai this year. My other half and I will gather with friends that have become our “Dubai family”. This year I feel very privileged to be invited to spend it with friends and their extended family who are visiting for the holidays. It feels great to spend Christmas with friends and extra special to be included in someone’s plans when they are hosting family too, given that we don’t always get to spend as much time with loved ones as we’d like living abroad. On St Stephen’s Day we’ll do it all again at our house, but with caterers so there’s no pressure after a big day on the 25th. There will be video calls home in the morning and glasses of Irish whiskey raised (presents sent from parents back home). An exchange of picture messages will be shared to the family Whatsapp group as the day goes on so we all feel part of each other’s day. My niece will be two-years-old next Christmas so I’ll be making a point of going home for the excitement of Santa coming to visit.

Amy Travers, Sacramento County: ‘I am excited about the cultural differences and similarities we will learn from each other’

Amy Traver
Amy Traver

I am currently living and working in Hong Kong for the last five years, but this year I will be spending Christmas in Sacramento, CA with my Indian American fiancé and my soon to be in-laws. I am excited about the cultural differences and similarities we will learn from each other, and the traditions that will be learnt and begin the Christmas traditions for our future family together.

James O’Neill, Sydney: ‘Spending time with British and Aussie friends in a cooler climate’

Heading to Tasmania to escape the heat and smoke of Sydney, and to spend time with British and Aussie friends in a cooler climate. It’ll also be a chance to savour the local food and wine.

Carol Gilhawley, New Jersey: ‘On Christmas night we play board games and charades with Irish friends’

Carol Gilhawley: ‘We started our own family Christmas traditions in the US.’
Carol Gilhawley: ‘We started our own family Christmas traditions in the US.’

After a couple of trips back to Ireland for Christmas, when invariably our kids got sick, we started our own family traditions here in the US. My husband and I are both from Dublin, but have been living in the US for many years now - 29 years for him and 23 for me. We have three teenagers who prefer to spend Christmas at home in Rutherford, New Jersey. Each Christmas Eve, we head into New York City (about 12 miles from here) to see the wonderful sights of the Rockefeller tree and Saks window display. We go to afternoon Mass at a beautiful church on the Upper West side of Manhattan followed by a festive dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. We’re generally home by 10pm right before Santa makes his rounds. We Skype our family in both Ireland and the US on Christmas Day before eating dinner. That night, we go to a house in Montclair to play board games and charades with some Irish friends who we call our extended family here.

Róisín Casey, Dubai: ‘We’ll have some friends round to celebrate Christmas in the desert’

I’m getting married in the Seychelles on the Friday before Christmas. I’ll fly back to Dubai in time to have my first Christmas with my husband Shiladitya. His parents and chocolate Labrador Chico will all be round the table for our first Christmas as newlyweds. We’ll have some friends round to celebrate Christmas in the desert.

Fergal O’Connor, Melbourne: ‘It’s shaping up to be a hot Christmas ... and we’ll be having turkey and Brussels sprouts’

I am spending my second Christmas in Melbourne with wife Michelle, our daughter Eden (4), our almost two year old son Lucas and Labrador Morgan. It is shaping up to be another hot one like last year. Temperatures have hit 40 degrees already. We are spending a few days at the beach in Philip island before returning home Christmas Eve for a quiet family Christmas. Christmas is a big deal in Australia - everyone takes a lot of time off and the build up starts in early November. We will have the turkey and Brussels sprouts, and maybe a cheeky baileys or Irish coffee in the evening. I wish everyone a great Christmas back home, especially family and friends.

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