Christmas can make you homesick
As thousands of Irish emigrants fly back to Ireland, or make plans to spend Christmas overseas, five share their feelings about home at this time of year
‘Christmas is everything I miss about Ireland all rolled into one week’
Luke Cutliffe 30, recruitment consultant, Sydney
“I am just about to spend my fourth Christmas out of the past five away from home since moving to Australia, in 2010. It will consist of a quick dip down on Bondi Beach, early on Christmas morning, followed by a seafood lunch and then craic agus ceoil into the wee hours.
“On Stephen’s Day we’ll go to the races in Randwick – it’s no Leopardstown, but it will suffice. New Year will be rung in overlooking the fireworks of the harbour bridge.
“Some expats love the Sydney Christmas and some hate it. It’s different. For Australians it’s more about the start of the summer holidays, and most people are off work for the best part of a month. I have learned not to think of it as Christmas, just as the beginning of summer.
“It can make you homesick seeing the build-up to Christmas at home, with images of shopping, cold weather, 12 Pubs and ridiculous jumpers all over your Facebook feed. It’s everything I miss about Ireland all rolled into one week: family, friends, Dublin city and holidays. This is one of the sacrifices you make when you emigrate.
“It’s easy to feel like you are missing out on a real Christmas when the climate and culture are different, and people use those differences as scapegoats. For me it’s just a reminder that I am now a grown-up.
“Ever since Santa stopped answering my letters, back in 1995, it hasn’t been quite the same – but I did get (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, by Oasis, on CD from my mother that year. I’ll have that blaring from my apartment this Christmas as I phone family and friends back home at an ungodly hour, as there’s nothing like a bit of nostalgia.”
‘Myself and my wife are bringing a very special present home’
Brian Cummins 32, English teacher and founder of abudhabipaddy.com, now living in Abu Dhabi
This year myself and my wife, Caoimhe, are bringing a very special present home to our families from Abu Dhabi. Our 11-week-old baby boy, Daithí, was born at 5.04pm on the third Sunday in September.
“The United Arab Emirates is Muslim, but in the capital there is some festive cheer at this time of the year, as hotels, international schools and shopping centres put up Christmas trees and lights and play the occasional holiday song. But it’s certainly no Grafton Street. The real Christmas feeling can be found in the homes of the Irish expats, like us, which are transformed into mini winter wonderlands.
“Like many couples fortunate enough to be returning from overseas, my wife and I try to divide our holidays between both our homes and visit as many friends as we can.
“In previous years I have longed for mulled wine, Christmas Eve Mass, the opening of presents on Christmas morning, the frosty air, the craic, a few hands of cards, pints of the black stuff and being able to catch up with friends and family. This year I am most excited that our bundle of joy will get to meet his grandparents, uncles, aunties, nieces, nephews and cousins.
“Our boy will be baptised during Christmas week, to ensure all family members from both sides can meet and celebrate. My family will make the journey from Clare to Tyrone.
“The most difficult time over the holidays is when I have to begin repacking our suitcases to leave family and friends all over again for another few months.”
‘We’re having our third wedding party at home’
Rachel Healy 31, social-media marketing manager, Vancouver
Having lived in Vancouver for more than five years, my new hubby, Simon, and I have spent half our Christmases abroad and half at home, with our respective clans in Dublin and Dundalk.
“While it’s fun and novel for the first few years seeing how other cultures celebrate the festive season (mostly a lot more soberly than the Irish), there’s nothing like that feeling on Christmas Eve of being surrounded by family and familiar surroundings.
“Christmas away is never the same as fighting to get heard over Christmas dinner, or marching off to the pub on Stephen’s night as if we haven’t been to one in years, ringing in the Christmas cheer before wobbling home along icy roads.
“This is our first Christmas as a married couple. We’re giving George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin a run for their money and having our third wedding party at home on December 27th.
“Our first was in October in our second home, Vancouver, with our “Van fam”. The second was a beach wedding with a rowdy crowd of 30 Irish relatives in Mexico in November.
“So this time around is a big shindig for all those friends and family who couldn’t make it.
“The only problem about going home for the first time as Mr and Mrs is that awkward conversation with your parents about where to spend Christmas. But the question only truly becomes difficult to answer when kids come along. Our parents can then fight over our Irish-Canadian brood.”
‘I hate that hug goodbye at the airport which seems to last forever’
Brigid Delaney, primary-school teacher, London
“For most of the year my family are split, with me in London, my sister and her family in Edinburgh, and my parents in Kildare. Christmas is one time in the year we are all together.
“I love the atmosphere in the airport, where I often meet other emigrants heading home. I love walking out into the arrivals lounge in Dublin and being met by a huge hug from my mam.
“I love approaching my home town of Athy, seeing the square lit up so beautifully and the lights on the Barrow bridge reflecting off the water.
“I feel really at home when I see the open fire blazing, and sit and munch on a bag of cheese-and-onion Tayto with a proper cup of Irish tea before my sister, brother-in-law and three nieces arrive and the house springs to life.
“I love our family traditions that make Christmas so special. I will play my violin at midnight Mass, as usual, and again on Christmas morning, in the local hospital for the elderly.
“It will be hard this year, though, as we lost our granny, who used to always spend Christmas with us. But she loved the festive season, so we’ll smile and remember all the good times we shared together at this time of year.
“Once New Year’s Day comes the dread will set in, as I know I have to start packing the bags to go back to England. I hate that journey in the car to the airport and that hug goodbye, which seems to last forever. It never gets any easier, even though I am 10 years here.
“I hate those goodbyes, but as my granny always said, ‘It’s not goodbye, it’s see you soon – and sure it won’t be long till you’ll be home again.’ ”
‘A summer barbecue is no match for my grandmother’s roast potatoes’
Ruth McCormack,34, chef, Melbourne
“It is summer here in Melbourne, and it doesn’t feel like Christmas at all. It is very difficult to get into the festive spirit. There are lights up, but because it’s bright so late they are barely noticeable.
“I have spent most recent Christmases abroad, in Australia or New Zealand. I had a bigger group of friends in New Zealand, so this Christmas in Melbourne will be a smaller gathering.
“There will be about 10 of us, with a few kids, all Aussies and Kiwis. I would love a few of my Irish or English friends to be there, but they are going home for Christmas or spending it with other friends.
So I will be the only one who is not used to Christmas in the sunshine. No matter how many times I do it, it still doesn’t feel right.
“I work as a chef, and as it’s one of my few days off from cooking I’m hoping not to be too involved in the Christmas Day barbecue, but I’ll make dessert. It won’t be a Christmas cake, though – that’s much too heavy for the heat.
“I will Skype my family back in Baldoyle, in Dublin, on Christmas night, which will be their Christmas morning. The following morning for me will be when they are having their Christmas dinner at my grandmother’s, with the whole family together. I’ll Skype them again then.
“All the kids bring the toys and gifts they got for Christmas to show everyone, so there are a lot of games going on. We always have a lot of fun, with people falling asleep on couches or struggling for hours with puzzles they just can’t crack.
“I’ll miss them all a lot, and the food – the turkey and stuffing and my grandmother’s roast potatoes. A summer barbecue is no match.”
This article will appear in a special diaspora edition of Weekend Review tomorrow.