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Upside Down Expat

Yearning for yesterdays yuletides

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Tis the season to be jolly. But for many, the festivities lead to feelings of longing and loneliness. This post is particularly written for expats but applies to anyone feeling a little dread this Christmas.

My memories of Christmas are magical.

Common customs of stockings stuffed with satsumas, carrots and mince pies for a Santa and Rudolph snack and whopping piles of presents made the festivities as a kid the absolute best.

And as an adult I maintained the festive zest.

I loved the build-up; the Christmas markets, parties and everything sparkly. And the day; excitedly exchanging gifts, munching the much loved merry meal and, later, gathering at my grandparents’ for games, nibbles and more merriness.

I was so resolute in retaining this ritual with relatives I would react with dismay at any suggestion of an overseas getaway.

Until I left life in England for Australia.

And now, after five years, as the season descends, starting to surface is an all too familiar feeling of dread. Every year a wave of homesickness seems to sneak up whacking me hard across the back of my head.

However, after four years of family-free festivities, I’ve found ways to dissipate the dull ache:

Remove the rose-tinted glasses: While I still desire much of the tradition now missing, it’s easy to view memories with glasses that are partially pink. It’s a flawed way to think. Because, while the family part still fully claims my heart, the reality of England includes chaotic Christmas shopping and, after the day is over, miserable months getting darker and colder. So when reminiscing our spectacles ought to project a clear and transparent visual. Because, in Australia for example, we enjoy a sunnier and more relaxed ritual.

Embrace the differences: Lifelong traditions are hard to let go because they’re all we know. It’s strange to see sun-drenched Christmas trees. And the hot weather, light nights and boring build-up is a disconcerting disparity to the British sea of festivity.  However, a sentimental state of mind can cause us to try and re-create Christmases gone by. Yet this only cultivates the contrast. It makes more sense to create new traditions and embrace alternative events. And in Australia with free festivals, long breaks and wicked weather, it’s the season to sparkle in the sun!

Give up the guilt: The guilt can weigh on us as heavily as Santa’s sack. Especially when we know our family wants us back. However, unlike Father Christmas, it’s not always possible to fly around the world to hand deliver gifts. And worrying about everyone else’s experience is a waste of energy that will only impact the ones we’re with.  Importantly, we should remember we’re just one little elf who’s main responsibility is ourselves.

Be thankful for your family, no matter where they are:  Frankly, I’ve found no way to fend off feelings of missing family. And I’ve realised I don’t want to. I miss them and the family festivities gone by. So I honour my emotions and have a little cry.  But I remind myself while we won’t be near this year, we will still share some Christmas cheer, exchanging gifts and speaking over skype. And it won’t be long before we set another date to celebrate.

Think of those alone:   The recent John Lewis ad featuring an elderly, lonely man on the moon looking longingly at earth struck a chord. Because half way round the world where the merriments are minimal we can look in at the festivities on facebook feeling faraway and forgotten.  If we listen hard enough right now we can probably hear Santa’s elves feebly fingering the scrawny strings of their super small violins. Because it should also remind us, if we’re spending it with just one person we love, we’re luckier than a lot. And while I don’t believe comparing is constructive since struggles are implicitly individual, the notion can help rationalise emotion.

Erase expectations: Expectation at Christmas, and in life, creates discontent. The festive season especially can shroud us in a thick fog of ‘should be’s’ and woeful wishes.  But when we focus on how it ought to be, we resist our reality and become trapped in a gap of turmoil. Yet by erasing expectation, the gap goes, setting us free to enjoy reality.

And so being on the other side of the world away from loved ones and treasured traditions can cast a dark cloud over a light and sunny season.

But battling the blues is not just an expat experience. Christmas for many frequently fosters longing, lamenting and loneliness.

It’s a painful reminder of loss and what once was.

Yet, while we should never suppress our sadness, if we let memories of yesterday’s yuletide take over, we wash away our today with the tide. And how do we know this year we’re not more fortunate than in the future?

Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon at Christmas to be feeling a little blue. So the one gift we mustn’t forget to give this year is happiness.

And make sure the recipient is you.

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Me and my little sis loved Christmas as kids!