December for me is a month full of mince pies, mulled wine and nostalgia for Christmases past. My memories of celebrating Christmas as a child are very happy. My parents driving us 82 miles to Belfast to see Santa Claus, opening one small present on Christmas Eve, selection boxes and being bored to tears watching The Snowman in school!
Now that I have two young children with high expectations for the festive period, I’ve been thinking about what traditions are important me. I often wonder if I should be doing all the things and feel guilty that I haven’t so much as thought about Christmas crafting or instagramming this year’s Bruce Spruce.
Then I reassure myself that it’s the simple things about celebrating as a child that I remember now. So at most – we drag our poor children to Fletcher’s Cove parkrun on Christmas morning, zoom our families and eat huge amounts of homemade Christmas cake posted to the USA by my mother in law!
Thinking about our ‘new’ traditions made me curious. How do my friends living abroad or separated from family due to the pandemic put their unique stamp on the Holidays? I asked and it made for such happy reading that I had to share. Huge thanks to everyone who contributed. Happy Holidays to you all!
Colleen, Brussels, Belgium
‘Having spent four Christmases away from home, I always make fresh bread sauce for our Christmas Day meal. My Dad made it from scratch when I was growing up. A lot of people we’ve shared it with over the years don’t like it or haven’t heard of it, but for me, it wouldn’t feel like a Christmas meal without it!’
Alan, Luton, UK
‘I brought lots of Christmas traditions to our family and my wife introduced me to Islamic traditions such as Ramadan and Eid. We don’t celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas, more so the tradition of spending time with family, sharing gifts and the decorations!
Eid marks the end of Ramadan, which is a month of fasting in Islam. Every adult gives 2.5% of their wealth to charity each year which is amazing. We start Eid with a breakfast of parathas, samosas and chai. Then it’s off to the Mosque for Eid Prayers. Everyone is so welcoming. We wear our best clothes, a chance for everyone to dress up. After Prayers, it’s home for some shemai – a bit like rice pudding followed by a curry. Then we relax together with family – similar to Christmas in that respect.’
Gemma, London, UK
‘This will be our first year going out to our own garden to collect the Christmas tree. I hope it’s still alive!’
Lynsey, Calgary, Canada
‘We do an ‘Orphan Christmas’ with all our friends and neigbors who don’t have family in Calgary. It’s usually a pot luck style dinner. I’ve introduced mulled wine to our Canadian friends, they had never heard of it before! They introduced us to egg nog and now it doesn’t feel like Christmas without it!’
Rachel, Washington DC, USA
‘We went to Mexico over Hanukkah in 2019 and brought a travel menorah and candles and celebrated in our hotel room which was unique. This year we are doing ‘Leftovers and Latkes’ with my family since Hanukkah is right after Thanksgiving.’
Catherine, Wexford, Ireland
‘In pre-Covid times, after Christmas Day Mass the entire parish visited my mother in law’s house for bubbles, bacon sandwiches and mighty craic!’
Leanne, Sydney, Australia
‘We start the day with croissants, a fruit platter and glasses of chilled, sparkling Shiraz (yum!) in our Christmas Pjs. Then a swim at the beach! We host an ‘Orphan’s Christmas’ with turkey/ham and all the Irish style trimmings and salads for the Australians! We play stealing Santa without fail. I print my menu for every table place! A personal tradition for me is going to the David Jones store every year and buying one expensive bauble to add to my collection.’
Stuart, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Last year when I was stuck in HCMC I had the joy of a 5 star hotel Christmas buffet with free flowing champagne. The decadence of it certainly made up somewhat for being away from home and family, but it still wasn’t the same. With the humidity, Chrismas jumpers are replaced with t-shirts and it’s quite funny watching the choir sing ‘In the Bleak Mid Winter‘ while the audience are fanning themselves in 30 degree heat!
The one thing that unites every culture here is Santa Claus! I played Santa a couple of times at the International School Fayre and can confirm that wearing a polyester suit, beard, wig and hat in high heat and humidity is brutal!’
Emma, Arlington, USA
Mince pies! We gather the ingredients from various shops to make our own mincemeat in November. Then bake mince pies with homemade short crust pastry to give to friends throughout December. We have a Christmas pudding from the UK and light it with brandy on Christmas Day!
On Boxing Day we still celebrate by eating leftovers, going for a walk and watching festive TV despite the day not having much relevance in America!’
Lisa, Newcastle, Australia
‘One of the things we do every year that’s unique to Australia is Santa on the beach! We do traditional Christmas food but in the evening rather than lunch as it’s usually pretty hot. We have a cold lunch like prawns and salad!’
Steven, Mexico City, Mexico
‘Every year a big group of us go for Christmas dinner – mostly people who don’t have family here.’
Ruth, Perth, Australia
‘I’d love to be a Mum who says we have lots of traditions but my kids are feral and only getting worse! We’re going to the Christmas lights trail, if they behave! We’ll attend a Christmas carol evening in a local park – again if not feral and too tired. In the evenings leading up to Christmas I drive to different suburbs to find the best decorated house (keeps them locked up in the car!). We spend an evening putting up the tree trying to keep calm while my eldest hides decorations in weird places! On Christmas Eve, Emmet and I spend an hour making Santa footprints at midnight.’
‘We start the Christmas season in December by going for dinner with different groups of friends and enjoying different cuisines until the big day. On Christmas Day we have a pool party then a traditional Christmas dinner, crank up the air conditioning so it feels very cold and put the crackling fire screen on Netflix so it feels like we’re back at home. We do a big FaceTime with family then have cheese toasties for supper with a big box of celebrations!
How do you celebrate holiday traditions away from home?