“It is the season of the heart, A special time of caring, The ways of love made clear” sings the Ghost of Christmas Past in ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’. And for me, that sums up what Christmas is about.
Perhaps this explains why the more Christmases I spend overseas, the less I enjoy it. Christmas is about being with family. I know that for many this causes problems; some families can’t be together for many, many reasons, which is why it is even more important to spend time with your family when you can.
Travelling is important to me and will always be an important part of my life, but if there is one day of the year that I wish I could transport myself directly home it is Christmas day, and that will never change.
Christmas has become very commercial in the west: it’s all about shopping, record sales and staff parties. I admit that for a while I became disillusioned with it all. In the weeks leading to Christmas stress levels soar as everybody becomes feverish about buying and preparing. Choosing unique and thoughtful presents is impossible when every department store sells the same selection of boxed candle sets and photo albums.
But all of this is forgotten on Christmas Day when my family closes itself into the house for the one day in the year that is fully devoted to family and friends.
Why haven’t my Christmases away from home matched up?
This year will be the fifth time I have been away for Christmas. The first time I was in Tokyo, and I worked on Christmas Day. I had a Christmas tree and a large pile of presents that my parents had sent me. The weather was crisp and cold—as Christmas should be. After work (yes, I went to worn on Christmas day) I went to the supermarket to buy cheese for our evening Christmas party. I met one other foreigner in the store, but we did not greet each other with a cheery ‘Merry Christmas’, instead he avoided my gaze and shuffled past me as if embracing a home tradition in a foreign country is some kind of crime. I felt crushed. Our Christmas party made up a little for our disappointing Christmas-less Day. At least, it did until we cut open the beautiful chocolate cake centrepiece that I had been dreaming of all day to discover that the gorgeous chocolate frosting was actually fermented red bean paste.
My second Christmas took place in Vietnam. The weather was hot and sticky. Knowing that I could never replicate a traditional Christmas, I didn’t try. I went to the beach. I ate omelette for dinner. I had a great day, but it wasn’t Christmas.
Christmas three was in Thailand. We headed to Koh Phi Phi hoping to find a Christmas dinner. We found plenty but they were Swedish Christmas dinners that took place on the 24th. Girls walked around dressed as slutty Santa and guys wore elf hats and little else. Trust travellers in Thailand to turn Christmas into a sleazy flesh-fest.
My fourth Christmas took place in Cambodia. I enjoyed a delicious Swedish Julbord on the 24th but think I had chicken skewers and mashed potato on the 25th. I was presented with a shot of vodka at 8am and lost interest straight away. Sure, it would probably be a good party but I want Christmas to feel special and not like any other day on a backpacking beach.
Christmas is not about getting presents.
When travelling, Nicklas and I don’t exchange presents and this does not bother me. What bothers me is not seeing my family’s faces when I give them the presents that I have spent hours deliberating over and I miss spending time with them as we don’t get to do it very often throughout the year. I miss the camaraderie over preparing the dinner, the special Christmas dishes, and I definitely miss the delicious dessert table.
If I could spend Christmas overseas with a local family, I would be happy. It’s the sense of family that makes Christmas and maybe seeing another family enjoying Christmas would help ease the pain of missing my own.
Christmas on the backpacking trail just becomes like every other day, except with Santa hats.
In all my Christmases away there have been a few good moments: Christmas dinner on the rooftop terrace in Vietnam, celebrating Swedish Christmas in Cambodia and this year I attended Christmas dinner at the house of an expat in Colombia—none of which occurred on the 25th.
I hope that Christmas Day in Medellin this year will bring me some Christmas cheer, our hostel is putting on a Christmas dinner and everyone seems pretty excited: but I know that the highlight of my day will be a skype date with my family.
Have you spent Christmas away from home? How did it make you feel? Are you disillusioned with the commercialisation of Christmas or do you think the magic is still there? Let me know in the comments below.