‘I loathe the heat of a Sydney Christmas, even after 23 years’

I’ve always found Christmas away from Ireland hard, but this year will be a fresh start

Teresa with her husband Tom in Sydney: ‘The gnawing sense of longing I feel at this time of the year usually only dissipates come St Stephen’s Day, when I know Christmas is over for another year.’

Teresa with her husband Tom in Sydney: ‘The gnawing sense of longing I feel at this time of the year usually only dissipates come St Stephen’s Day, when I know Christmas is over for another year.’

 

It’s summer in Sydney. The sky is awash with the purple hue of Jacaranda trees in full bloom. The hum of crickets outside and sunsets clouded in smog foretell a hot season ahead.

I loathe the heat and humidity of a Sydney Christmas even after 23 years. Bodies genetically crafted in Ireland and nurtured through to adulthood in the northern hemisphere are not easily modified to meet the Australian heat. I have resigned myself to a ruddy face and unladylike glow being the mainstay of my existence for the next four months.

My “hot girls pearls” are already on standby in the freezer. Whoever came up with the idea of a freezable necklace which can be carried around in a chilled compact deserves the Nobel prize.

Despite having a gleaming swimming pool in the back yard, another summer is ahead where I will be resolutely terra firma. My Irish midlands genes put paid to any swimming lessons and I finally declared defeat when my husband mused to our friends that he had never seen someone so determined to drown themselves.

Surely this is the stuff of my childhood dreams: living in Sydney, a swimming pool and looking forward to a hot Christmas? Festive decorations have been in the stores since the beginning of October. But images broadcast in Ireland on Christmas Day of backpackers frolicking on Bondi beach, wearing Santa hats, bikinis and board shorts and beaming into the TV cameras and declaring it the “Best Christmas Ever”, isn’t how all Irish emigrants feel about Christmas in their adopted homes.

Family

All it takes for my inner child to cry out in yearning for an Irish Christmas is hearing the opening beats of ‘Last Christmas’ . I imagine my family in Ireland having a great time and I wonder what my life would have been had I stayed. Would I become inured to all the family traditions? Praying that the day would be over so I could get back to my own life as I did for so many years when making the customary visit to my parents outside Castlepollard?

Would I have become a single mother in Sydney on a Christmas Day when my daughter was just 13 months old? I was grateful my brother was visiting from Ireland to see his new niece. He visited each year after that until I met my husband, wanting to make sure I was okay. His sudden death from a heart attack seven years ago broke my heart. The first Christmas after his passing, I howled my eyes out at the sign of Christmas decorations.

‘The joy of landing in Dublin airport and seeing the “Welcome Home” signs and Christmas decorations felt like a warm hug to a longing soul.’
‘The joy of landing in Dublin Airport and seeing the 'Welcome Home' signs and Christmas decorations felt like a warm hug to a longing soul.’

My daughter and I visited Ireland five years ago at Christmas, my first in more than 25 years. It didn’t take long for her Irish DNA to activate and become infected with the same longing for an Irish Christmas. The joy of landing in Dublin airport and seeing the “Welcome Home” signs and Christmas decorations felt like a warm hug to a longing soul. Even the blast of frosty cold hitting our faces after leaving almost 40 degree heat in Sydney was a joy I was unprepared for.

The sight of Christmas trees lining O’Connell Street, hot chocolate and mince pies in Bewley’s on Grafton Street, minus-six degree mornings, Christmas trees and lights twinkling as the darkness crept in at 4pm, along with a dedicated Christmas music radio station, were all experiences to be relished anew.

Both of us treasure the memory of visiting my sister in Ballivor in Co Meath, and being inducted into her family’s ritual of shopping on Christmas Eve in Blanchardstown; Christmas jammies and jumpers; pigs in blankets on Christmas morning; roast turkey with all the trimmings along with Christmas television specials of EastEnders, Coronation Street and Call the Midwife.

New beginning

This year I look forward to a new beginning. It’s time to talk to my inner child and lay the ghosts of Christmas past to rest. My daughter turns 21 and will graduate as a midwife. I blame the Christmas special of Call the Midwife five Christmases ago for infecting her not only with a longing for Irish Christmas, but also for a passion in midwifery.

We will listen to Christmas FM while drinking mulled wine and sporting the latest Christmas jumpers from Ireland. My husband will look on bemused as he walks past to take a dip in the pool. I am blessed.

Just like the backpackers spending their first Christmas morning on Bondi Beach, this year for us, I am sure, will be the Best Christmas Ever.

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