Since moving to Australia, I’ve never come home for Christmas
The truth is I couldn’t face the wrench of those post-festive farewells
‘Christmas in Australia is all I know now.’
Christmas, for the most part, is a frivolous almost incidental affair in Australia. Baby Jesus barely rates a mention. There are no crushes at midnight mass. For those who are of a mind to watch, the Queen’s message is always on TV but that’s about as traditional as it gets.
Of course, there’s the usual fanfare of work Christmas parties, and frenzied last-minute shopping. But the emphasis is always firmly focussed on the summer holidays, the beach, the surf, and countless other outdoor activities. In short, Christmas in Australia is a time to take a breather, to down the proverbial tools and to embrace our great outdoors.
This time of the year in Australia, with summer well and truly arrived, isn’t such a bad place to be. Backpackers have arrived in numbers and they are picking strawberries, raspberries and cherries in the paddocks all around our place. I can only admire their energic endeavours. Snakes are about and tractors lugging their mowers and balers are out in force. Needless to say, we’ve already had some catastrophic bushfires in several states and there are dire warnings that more are likely.
Christmas in Australia is all I know now. Its familiarity has crept up on me like a favourite item of clothing. Rapidly fading now are my memories of those bitingly cold Irish Christmases and the distinct aroma of Ma’s slow overnight baking of the turkey. I’ve learned to let go of those long dark evenings and to embrace our summer solstice. To be blunt, I’ve learnt to let go.
St Stephen’s Day has long since morphed into the more decidedly secular Boxing Day; when we sit back to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Or if you are so inclined, to head to the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch the opening day’s play of the Boxing Day Test Cricket. There are also the Boxing Day Sales when thousands converge on department stores to score a bargain.
And so, yet another year abroad has slid past without me making the pilgrimage home. Though, it’s hardly abroad anymore for this migrant. I’ve long since more or less adjusted to this country’s inevitable heat at this time of year. Moving from Melbourne to the cooler climes of Tasmania a few years back has also helped.
With an Australian wife and daughter, I’m more firmly anchored Down Under. Plodding along now through my middle-age, my memories of Irish Christmases are rapidly receding. And with my parents well gone to their graves, the pull to book the flight half-way around the globe is no longer relevant. But even while they were still around, and my mother’s cards always arriving early, making the trip from Australia for Christmas was never really a serious consideration. Over the years, it seems, I’ve come to embrace what I regard as the emotional neutrality of these Christmases abroad.
Throughout my new life as a migrant, I never went home for Christmas. It gives me no satisfaction to say such a thing. The truth is I couldn’t face the wrench of those post-festive farewells. Instead, I’d settle for those Christmas night phone calls when the dust had settled on the day here, and when the heat of the day often still lingered. And even those late-night phone calls were laden with so much unspoken emotion that they too were almost too much.
It hardly needs saying that the longer we migrants are gone, the less likely we are to ever return. And no, it’s not a matter of economics; of better jobs or opportunities. It’s hard to imagine any inducements making much difference to woo us back. Vexed details like exorbitant car insurance and obstacles to accessing bank loans are mere irritants - hardly make or break factors. And it’s not just that we’ve gone. It’s more complicated. For many, I’d argue, we simply change too much to ever really want to go back. And it’s nigh impossible for us to return to where we’ve left off.
So, I’ll take the frivolous Christmas Down Under, and hopefully many more are still in store. To quote the late Kurt Cobain, I think I’m just happy. Just.