This is now my fourth Christmas spent away from home and it never gets any easier or feel anything like the Christmas’s I hold close to my heart. Christmas at my house back home in Scotland is one big chaotic party. I have quite a large family, who are all very close to each other, so Christmas is a time of year I have always looked forward to since I was a kid. I loved that having a big family meant loads of presents, but my favourite part has always been everyone getting together to celebrate the day, and spend time together as one big bunch.
My Christmas’s away from home have all been quite different, but they do have some things in common – it’s always been hot, the stores don’t spend a whole month playing Christmas music (I actually didn’t hear any this year) and the people are never as into it as my people are.
It starts off with my mum and dad waking up my very hungover self and my very hungover brother at the crack of dawn to go down and open presents. Michael Bubble’s Christmas album would be playing and my dad would be tidying up before there was even any mess. We’d have a cup of tea and head straight to my Gran’s – on my dad’s side – for breakfast rolls and more tea. My cousins would all come and we would share what we got for Christmas, while opening more. As the years have went on we have welcomed other halves into our family, who we all love very much, and Christmas has gotten even bigger.
We would then head off to my Granny’s, it used to be just me and my brother as the grandchildren but now there are another five little kids which makes Christmas that even more magical. They would open their presents from Santa and the adults swap their secret Santa presents while we talk about how chaotic Christmas is and how we can’t believe it’s here.
After this eventful morning, we usually head home for a few hours to reenergise and prepare for Christmas night. We either have dinner at our house, or at my Aunt’s on my dad’s side. It is truly my favourite part of the whole year, we have a long table with anywhere between 10-20 people these days, stuffing ourselves with food and everyone enjoying a drink (and many more). We have a tradition of playing games after dinner, whoever is hosting Christmas has to make up their own game for it. My family is full of competitors so we are not short of hard core game players.
My Grandpa, who was unable to be there for Christmas dinner this year as his health is not as it used to be, would write us a quiz every year. It’s the reason I have such an obsession with being quizzed on anything – and needing to be right. This year they honoured him by having the Bill Mckinnon Quiz, which will now be an annual event in his honour.
Everyone stumbles home drunk in the early hours of Boxing Day, and it has always been a night to remember.
My first Christmas away from home was spent in Koh Phanang, Thailand, in 2017. At this time I was partying a lot – as you do in the south of Thailand – and I had a really wonderful group of friends. It was hot so we were in shorts and on the beers together. There was a traditional English pub on the Island, and since we were all from the UK we thought there was no better place to spend Christmas. We had the closest thing to a Christmas dinner that was available in Thailand – they even had yorkshire puddings. While stumbling our way to the beach rave after dinner, I face timed with all my family as they were around the table. I am grateful for my mum because she never fails to call and include me, even when Christmas is mental enough.
The Christmas after that, in 2018, I did go home. I had spent one year in Australia and was ready to see my family again so I flew home and surprised everyone in time for the festive season. It was really lovely to be at home after being gone for so long, we did all the usual traditions that I had missed so much and my heart was full. That was the last time I have been home at all.
Sydney, Australia, was where I spent my 2019 Christmas. I was living in an apartment with my friends and we hosted Christmas dinner. I remember the Australian Christmas’s, it is so bizarre to walk into supermarkets in shorts, bikinis and flip flops and see Christmas trees and stock. To have everyone on the beach on the run up to, and including, Christmas day. The feeling is one of discombobulation, and it continues to feel that way every year. Almost like something isn’t quite right, which it isn’t… the sun is shinning. However, as it is my favourite time of year, I always try and make it feel like Christmas. I like to watch Christmas movies, and treat myself, and wear new pyjamas on Christmas eve like I always have, and eat the food I have always loved.
There was a Scottish butcher in the city and I had stalked up on all my favourite home breakfast staples…
Everyone brought their own little part of Christmas to dinner and mine was making my gran’s famous carrots.
We ate on the balcony in the sunshine, played games and drank together. It was a Christmas with some of my best friends, so one I will remember forever.
Last year was the first Christmas I got to spent with Lior. She is Jewish, so had only had one Christmas before this one. Me – a big ball of Christmas cheer – really wanted to show her what Christmas meant to me. I got us stockings and filled them with little things, my mum sent us matching pj’s to wear and we had mimosas for breakfast with our housemates. We had a summer Christmas on the roof of our friends house, and ate so much that we napped after dinner and woke up when everyone was gone… oops.
We then spent the holidays on a road trip up to the north of New Zealand, and it was such a great trip for us, and a great first Christmas together being so in love.
This year has been my favourite Christmas away from home so far, and it has also felt like the least Christmassy one of all. As the years have went on, Christmas feels further and further away. So much so that this year I just pretended like it wasn’t happening on the run up in order to feel better about it, which is really easy to do on the other side of the world where people barely say Merry Christmas to strangers.
However, once it got to Christmas Eve I was ready to let Christmas take over, and I gave in to the festivities. We had a lovely dinner at our campsite with everyone staying there and it was so nice to share a meal at a big long table with everyone laughing – already feeling like Christmas. I also have a habit of ruining any special day, like birthdays, with my tears. What is it about getting older that makes days like this so difficult? So I was really focussed on keeping myself together, and making sure we both had a memorable day.
In the morning, I got to wake up with my other half, I made us one of our favourite breakfasts – her dad’s eggs, fitting since it’s his birthday on Christmas day. This consists of eggs scrambled with onion and corn (we added some sausage) and put it all in a wrap. I had an obligatory breakfast beer and we drove and listened to all the classic Christmas songs to the beach. We played badminton, frizbee and cards while having a drink and eating cheese and crackers. We even went for a Christmas swim in the ocean.
The day before we had caught a salmon from the salmon farm we work at, they filleted it for us and that was what we had for our dinner – our salmon! Lior made a beautiful dinner for us and then we got into bed and watched the first and second Home Alone, a peaceful night just us two.
Earlier my mum had said something on the phone that I really felt, she said “just enjoy it, you won’t get many like this” and I spent the day really appreciating spending this Christmas just me and her, spending quality time together and making memories. I have no idea how many of those Christmas’s we will get in our life (I have been told that I have no option about next year, I must be home… not that I wouldn’t want to be anyway) so I really wanted to be present, and enjoy it as a couple.
Over the years, I have had to make Christmas feel like Christmas for me on my own. It has definitely helped having such a sentimental family, who never fail to send me something to open (or some much needed cash) as a present. But what I have realised is that it’s about being there, fully there, on the day. Engaged in the activities, laughing together and sharing parts of yourself in your meals and your games and the traditions that you bring – or start.
I feel very grateful to now have my own family, the two of us, and for Lior for getting stuck right into the Christmas spirit with me. It’s not the presents that I miss, it’s my family. It’s the traditions that we repeat year after year, it’s the food that is home to me and the games that we play together. It’s the moments we share.
It was easier for me to pretend like it wasn’t happening, and while it’s harder to make Christmas feel like Christmas when it doesn’t, I am so thankful that I pushed through and did Christmas for me this year. I’m sure there would have been just as many tears either way, but not the same memories.
We have to cherish every moment, because no Christmas will ever be the same as last. And the time will come where people are no longer with us. It’s a humble reminder to say I love you, to hug and exchange gifts that say “I know you”. We eat the food from our home, and play family games. Most importantly it’s the people we are with that make the day so special.
I can’t wait to keep spending Christmas’s with my love, and to finally take her home to a mad one in Scotland. I can’t wait to keep making our own traditions, we will be keeping the eggs for breakfast and the Christmas swim in the sea. And I can’t wait to get back to my old ones – ready to beat my cousins at some games.
My God, I can’t wait for Christmas next year! I hope everyone had a happy holiday season, and if you didn’t feel so Christmassy it’s okay, there’s always next year to do it for YOU.