Emigrant Christmases: ‘We’ll stream Reeling in the Years on YouTube’

How the Irish around the world are spending Christmas, from Tasmania to California

Margaret O’Neill, Sydney: ‘We will share what can be a very lonely day together in the company of good friends.’

Margaret O’Neill, Sydney: ‘We will share what can be a very lonely day together in the company of good friends.’

 

From wildlife watching in a campervan in Tasmania, to eating roast spuds in a log cabin in California, Irish Times Abroad readers around the world share where and how they are spending Christmas this year.

Paul McKay, Guangdong, China: ‘This is our first Christmas with our daughter Sofia’

This is our first Christmas with our daughter Sofia, who was born in April. My wife is Chinese, so I’m introducing her whole family to mulled wine, roast turkey and Christmas stockings. It’s strange having a proper family Christmas after eight years away from Ireland, but there’s something about it that feels like a rite of passage too. Gran is very disappointed that we’re not making the trip back home, but that’s maybe something for next year when Sofia is old enough to enjoy it.

Gareth Moss, Beijing: ‘We’ll stream Reeling in the Years on YouTube’

My family, including my Albanian wife and our under-two twins, will be celebrating in our house in Beijing with about 16 friends after we Skype with my parents and brother back in Dublin. On the menu will be roast beef, all the usual Irish veg, Albanian fayre such as burek, pickled vegetables and qofte. Dessert will be pecan pie, courtesy of our American guests. We’ll be opening the top button of our trousers while streaming Reeling in the Years on YouTube.

Some people will have to leave early because they are back in work the next morning; such is life in a place where people don’t really know or care when Christmas happens. We could have gone away for the break, to a different country or city, but we have a lovely home that has been decorated beautifully; my wife built a cardboard fireplace so Santa would have a way to enter the apartment. We’ve been in China for almost 10 years now and spent many Christmases doing different things, but celebrating at home is best. Sure, isn’t home is where the cardboard hearth is!

Sean Matthews, Massachusetts: ‘I will be working as a cop on Christmas Day’

I have been a cop in MA for seven years, and I will be working Christmas Day. I hate working Christmas Day, as it’s actually a very busy day for domestic assaults. I have been in the US for 20 years, and Christmas is honestly the only time of the year I miss home. My American co- workers don’t believe me when I tell them that In Derry, where I am from, Christmas lasts a week.

Mary Mulhern, Ontario: ‘This is our 37th Christmas in Canada’

I will be spending Christmas in Kitchener, Ontario this year - it will be our 37th Christmas season in Canada. Around the table we will have my husband and I, our 24-year-old son, and my nephew and his friend, who are currently living in Toronto on a two-year working holiday visa. These Clare lads, both in their 20s and new to this country, remind me of our own early Christmas experiences in the early 80s. Those were emotional times for us in Calgary, as they are for every emigrant, away from home for the first year, made easier by being around others in the same boat.

Christmas is not just a day, a time set out on our calendars at the end of the year, but an emotion established in our early childhood that includes memories of special people, times and places. We adjusted to life in Canada, and became accustomed to the harsh, long winters. Santa came down the icy chimneys in Alberta many times to thrill of our four children, and along with the traditional toys of dolls, trucks and Lego familiar to us back home, he delivered shiny new skates, toboggans and sleds. The kids learned to skate and ski, and I perfected the Quebec traditional meat pie, the Tourtiere, which has become a staple holiday dish for us.

Thirty-seven years later, four moves across three provinces and now away far more Christmases than I ever spent in Ireland, my eyes will move between our son and my nephew, his cousin sitting by him, and I know my own long journey will come sharply into focus.

Colette NiReamonn Ioannidou, Cyprus: ‘Schoolchildren sing Greek carols door to door’

Christmas in Cyprus now, unlike when I arrived many years ago, is pretty much like Christmas in most European countries; shops filled with frantic shoppers and all the usual glitzy, glimmery bits and bobs that make the season bright. Schoolchildren sing Greek carols door to door or in the squares. Orthodox religious celebrations are almost the same as Catholic ones. My Romanian neighbour has his roof-high cactus festooned with lights, and my Syrian neighbour, a Muslim, has a pretty wreath on his door. The Hindus down the street, the Bangladeshi lads at the supermarket, and the Iraqis up the road all wish me a merry Christmas; I love that diversity.

It will be a low key event for us. Two years ago my daughter separated from her husband near the festive time. Her 12-year-old daughter Lara is spending Christmas week with her dad and the New Year holiday with us. That loss of a child in the house is meaningful. Sure, we can give her her gifts before she joins her dad, but it’s not the same as having her boisterous presence with us.

Of course we will think and talk about “home”. There will be visits to friends for a good old chat and a laugh. There will also be a sense of melancholy as an old and very dear friend died recently and we will think of her, and my husband Andreas, whose anniversary was on December 21st.

Rita Kilroy, Perth: ‘To be honest, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas here and I almost prefer it that way. There are so many memories and emotions associated with Christmas. I never make it home for Christmas as the flights are too expensive, so we usually take the opportunity to explore and travel. This year we will be celebrating Christmas Day in Cambodia.’
Rita Kilroy, Perth: ‘To be honest, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas here and I almost prefer it that way. There are so many memories and emotions associated with Christmas. I never make it home for Christmas as the flights are too expensive, so we usually take the opportunity to explore and travel. This year we will be celebrating Christmas Day in Cambodia.’

Margaret O’Neill, Sydney: ‘Eleven of us will each bring a dish’

My husband and I will spend Christmas Day with our fellow “orphans”. There will be eleven of us from Peru, South Africa, England, New Zealand, Norway and Ireland. Each will bring a dish and we will all share what can be a very lonely day together in the company of good friends.

James Quinn, Michigan: ‘I’m spending Christmas week walking and hiking’

I’ve been living in the US for 30 years, and work in the state of Michigan at a local university. I’ve let everyone know that unlike previous years, I’ll be chatting with them over the New Year and not on Christmas Day. I’m spending Christmas week having a well-needed easy-going week walking and hiking, and generally lounging around in rural Costa Rica without any access to wifi distractions. In addition to the exercise, and being able to spend time outside in December, the change in climate from freezing Michigan to temperatures in the high 20s will be a welcome break from the long Midwestern winter. Hopefully, I’ll return reinvigorated to begin 2019 in good spirits.

Bee Ní Choitir, France: ‘My family love to travel’

It’s my third Christmas away from home but my first in France. I’m embracing the cultural differences. My partner’s family have welcomed me into their French traditions, especially as my partner is a pilot and has been stationed in Africa for five weeks, so we won’t have Christmas together. My own family love to travel and as we’ve gotten older, we’ve taken the opportunity to travel for Christmas. Though they’re happily married, my dad is spending Christmas exploring caves in Tasmania, while my sister and mother spend Christmas in Miami. Our family WhatsApp makes it easy to stay in touch, and he photos and chats when we eventually get together will be phenomenal.

Maedbh King, California: ‘I’ll escape the palm trees to a log cabin in the woods’

I have been living abroad for the past four years and this is the first time that I won’t be making the annual pilgrimage to Dublin for Christmas. I’m currently living in Berkeley, California and if it wasn’t for the cost and the long-haul flight, I would certainly be back.

The energy, hedonism, and sunshine that first enticed me to California is great most weeks of the year, but what I really crave this Christmas season are mince pies, turf fires, and Christmas FM. This is the first time in my four years here that I won’t be making the annual pilgrimage to Dublin for Christmas. I will miss the Christmas Eve get-together with close friends in Dalkey, the Christmas Day walk on Dun Laoghaire pier, and the St Stephen’s Day session with family in Man O’War.

To escape the palm trees and hot yoga, I will venture up north to Oregon to spend a few days in a log cabin in the woods, where at least I will have familiar cold and grey weather, mulled wine, and roast potatoes. That is good enough for me.

Patrick McKenna, Montreal: ‘My first Christmas far from home was so lonesome I thought I would die’

Patrick McKenna: ‘After 40 years, home is here in Montreal.’
Patrick McKenna: ‘After 40 years, home is here in Montreal.’

 

“Christmas”, “home”, “emigration” and “family” are words that, at this time of year, are especially charged with emotion. Not being able to make it home for Christmas can sadden the best of us. Mind you, it doesn’t have to be that way. By dialing back the emotions you can enjoy December 25th no matter where you are.

My first Christmas alone and far from home, in the world’s second coldest country, in a small town in rural Ontario where I knew no one and where there was no Irish or any other immigrant community, was so lonesome I thought I would die. But of course I didn’t. That night, I switched off the TV, went to bed as usual, and the next morning I got on with my life. Now, that’s all behind me. After 40 years, home is here in Montreal. Family is long-term friends: Quebecers, Chinese, Algerians and others. Christmas is when the days start - imperceptibly - to lengthen, bringing hope of sunny days into winter’s cold heart of darkness.

This year in a German class, I learned this phrase “Irgendwo auf die Welt gibt’s ein kleines bisschen Glück fur jeder” (Somewhere in the world, there’s a little bit of happiness for everyone). So, wherever you are, you can find a little bit of happiness; even if you don’t make it back home for Christmas.

Fiona Ridgway, Tasmania: ‘We’re spending Christmas in a campervan’

Christmas in Sydney can be quite lonely without any family to celebrate with. So my fiancé and I are spending the holidays in Tasmania this year, making our way around the island in a campervan over 10 days. We’ve heard that Tassie has some of the best hiking trails, national parks and views in Australia; it will be nice to escape the hustle and bustle of Sydney. Christmas Day will be spent cooking shrimp on the barbie (or gas stove in our case), and a Skype call home in the evening once our families are awake in Ireland.

Phil Lang, Guatemala: ‘We attempted to escape Christmas in Central America’

My partner and I attempted to escape Christmas this year by traveling through Central America. We failed, as Christmas is everywhere here - trees, decorations, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas”. We recently left London after seven years, returning to Dublin across the Irish Sea during a huge winter storm. After a week of being home and furiously putting boxes into storage wherever space could be found, we headed off for five months of travel.

On Christmas Day will be in Antigua in Guatemala. My younger sister, who lives in Canada, is flying down to join us. Having had Christmas upturned after the death of both my parents over the past few years, this time of year has certainly changed, but I’m all for making new traditions.

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