The A-Z of An Expat Christmas
Presents have been sent. Presents have arrived. The air miles of this Christmas - factoring in food, drinks, pressies etc - is almost not worth thinking about. But it's our first one in Singapore, and I'm determined that it will still feel like Christmas. Even if our snow is fake as we bask in tropical temperatures, and "Christmas drinkies" are frozen and poolside.
Airports. Because...expat life. You're always coming, or going, or saying hello, or saying goodbye. Plus everything costs loads. You need small change for just about everything from parking per minute at the drop off area to a trolley to put your life / suitcases / children onto. And don't even get me started on the farce that is security. Grit your teeth and bear it. Or get your friends and family to fly to you. See also: Delayed flights (below).
Barbecued turkey? Absolutely unthinkable to us Europeans, but absolutely the done thing (and the only done thing) in southern climes come December. Still not ok though. And frankly, the less said about it the better.
Christmas past, present and future. NO. I'm not actually talking about Dickensian ghosts lurking. It's the period of reflection that comes with the end of another year away. The thoughts that turn to years gone by, when was the last time we spent Christmas at home? I wonder where we'll be next year.... you know the conversation.
Delayed flights aka Christmas DOOM. Need I say more? It's horrendous, I know. And a voucher for a few quid to spend at a shitty airport coffee shop that's probably closed anyway (and not even available everywhere) is almost more insulting than getting nothing at all. I have absolutely no advice whatsoever other than swot up on your passenger rights and be prepared to fight for them, but in a really nice, polite way. Because it's still Christmas.
Embracing new traditions. Something of a contradiction when you consider what I said about barbecued turkey. But part of living overseas is embracing the experience, the cultures, new friends, different foods and traditions. So an A B C of any aspect of expat life, Christmas included, would be remiss without a reminder to embrace new traditions. In something of an unexpected development, I can see us making an American Thanksgiving Green Bean Casserole every year to go with our Christmas lunch and reminiscing about the first time we had it whilst celebrating our first Thanksgiving with our American friends whilst living in Singapore. And it is a tradition in the making, because our children will remember no different.
Family comes in all forms as an expat. Last year (like every other year) we spent Christmas with our actual families, this year we're spending it with our expat family here in Singapore. And whoever we're with, we'll miss the other. As life problems go it's a pretty sweet one to have.
Gin o'clock. Expat life and gin go hand in hand don't they? If you buy into all those stereotypes of sun drenched lawns and bored wives anyway. But if you do find yourself winter-ing anywhere but somewhere, well, winter-y then mulled wine is off limits. And Baileys is extortionately expensive everywhere apart from Asda seemingly. Fizz, I hate to admit, even gets a little boring after a while. So gin on the rocks it is. Sun drenched lawns and bored wives are completely optional (and improbable...this is 2017, nearly 2018).
Holidays are coming...or going? There's no such thing as a "normal" Christmas when you live between homes. If you stay at home - that is your own home overseas - you're considered as not "going home" for Christmas. But if you go "home" you consider it a holiday (with a hefty holiday price tag attached). So what will it be? A holiday or home?
Imported everything. Because the joy of modern life means almost anything and everything can be imported, anywhere in the world. Albeit for a princely sum. If air miles and cost aren't a concern to you then you can get whatever Christmas related things you want, when you want, where you want.
January watch, not because we're too keen on New Years Resolutions, but because after a couple of weeks of being passed around relatives and answering the same questions about the weather and the food we're ready to come home. Our home. Our expat homes in far flung places.
Keeping in touch has never been easier. We can see and speak with friends and family anywhere in the world at the touch of a button. But seeing our names and address written on carefully wrapped packages, with handwriting familiar from childhood, is so, so much more special than any amount of Skype.
Logistical details of going home for Christmas are akin to a military assault. There are the online deliveries ahead of your arrival to ensure climate appropriate clothing is ready and waiting. There's the coordinating flight arrivals, taxi's, car seats, and luggage allowances. Then there's the top secret suitcase containing presents that has to be packed and unpacked without any small eyes suspecting a thing. And I haven't even really mentioned surviving the flight itself.
Missing you. How every conversation, every holiday, every call ends. And when you're not home - when the grandchildren aren't home - for Christmas especially, the "we miss you" feels believable. But planes fly in both directions and expat life isn't necessarily forever. See also: Christmas past, present and future (above).
Normality is but a state of mind I've learned in the last almost eighteen months. There was our old normal- our life in the UK. And there is our current normal- life in Singapore. It is impossible to have all of our old normal in our current normal. So Christmas will be different, but no worse and no better. Just different.
O Come All Ye Faithful. It's a tradition I'll miss terribly come Christmas Eve when we would all shuffle, sometimes quite tipsily, into Midnight Mass and belt out my favourite Christmas Carol just after midnight. We all have traditions we miss when we don't go home for Christmas. But, as mentioned above, new traditions must be embraced.
Pigs in blankets and puddings galore. We recently had to explain what pigs in blankets are (having informed guests we would be having them as part of Christmas lunch), and the reason why we'll be having puddings with the main course (Yorkshire puds) and pudding for...pudding (Christmas pudding). Cue confused nods. See also: Traditions (below).
Queues, queues and more queues. Apparently universal at this time of year in any country where the consumerism of Christmas has taken hold of EVERYONE. Inescapable unless you move to a country with no Christmas (in which case...airports? See above).
Real Christmas tree or fake? We have a fake. It's moderately disappointing, I won't lie. But there's a coffee shop near us who have a real tree (read: continuous aircon) and I pay for a latte but actually sit and inhale the pine-ness. The needle drop is a nightmare, but the smell...OH THE SMELL...
Santa tracker has some relevance when you live in different time zones to the rest of your family. This year, as we're staying in Singapore, we'll be opening our stockings over Skype as my family in the UK settle down to the last hours of Christmas Eve, and then Finn and Clara have promised their Grandpa they will keep an eye on the Santa tracker to check he does a drop off in England. Time zones have always gone over their heads somewhat, but seemingly the Santa tracker is explaining the concept in terms they understand. Does that count as Mummy school?
Traditions take on a while new meaning and importance when you're away from home, and even things like the dreaded brussel sprouts become crucial. Symbolic even. If anyone tries to mess with a traditional Christmas under my watch there'll be trouble (see B for barbecued turkey above...)
Undeliverable. Sometimes parcels, but this year us. Although the number of parcels of presents, food and Christmas cards flying around the globe between long distant families and friends I expect there's a good deal of those that are left as an undeliverable notice too.
Vegetables, really fresh, crunchy, tasty veggies are completely underappreciated at home. A plate of locally grown, organic, packed-full-of-goodness veg is almost worth the flight home in itself. I realise this isn't an expat problem for everyone at all. But for those of us living in city states, or in places where even the imported fresh food has to be carefully checked for it's origin and how long it's been out of the ground / on the shelf for, the thought of just being able to eat affordable but delicious food all day everyday (and not just for Christmas) is a dream.
Winter and Christmas are synonymous. Even the Aussies, during the height of a glorious southern hemisphere summer, hark back to winter over Christmas. Or at the very least a North Pole-esque winter, fake fluffy snow and all. Up until about a month ago this had always seemed bonkers to me. And yet here I am now, in my shorts and sweaty t-shirt, decking the hall with boughs of holly. Tra-la-la-la-la la-la-la-laaaa.
Xmas TV is not the same. It's just not. At some point after Christmas, probably in the New Year when all the decorations have been taken down and we're thoroughly out of Christmas mode, the much hyped Christmas specials will finally make their way here. And then, because....Call The Midwife, we'll buy a box of Ferrero Rocher and settle down to one more night of Christmas. In February.
Zzzz because travelling, festivities, and jetlag are a TERRIBLE combination. Coming home from a holiday at "home" and you'll feel like you need a holiday to recover from it all. And no sooner has everyone recovered from the chaos then you're back on Sky Scanner checking out deals for next year.