My first Christmas away from home, was when I was 19 years old and I spent the summer holidays between two university years travelling in the UK and skiing in Austria.
For Christmas itself I stayed with family in Brighton in England. It was my first experience of a cold-weather Christmas. The sun set early in the afternoon and there was a chill in the air. For the first time, Christmas snowflake and icicle decorations made sense. The twinkle of fairy lights was clearly visible in the afternoon gloom, and rugged up carollers went from house to house singing their repetoire in the days leading up to Christmas.
Since I moved to Melbourne in my early twenties, there has been just a handful of years that I have woken up in my own bed, as Christmas has often entailed travel back to Western Australia for a family Christmas.
And we’ve spent two Christmases about as far away from home as you can get geographically (in New York City) and culturally (Hoi An in Vietnam).
New York City for Christmas
In 2008 we were in New York City, staying in a two-story apartment in a brownstone in Harlem. There was snow leading up the big day, and still some on the ground on Christmas Day itself. The most incredible part of Christmas in New York however, was the atmosphere. Despite the Global Financial Crisis having just hit, decorations in the shops and public spaces were completely over the top. Giant trees, fabulous shop windows, lights on buildings…
The owners of the apartment had organised a white plastic Christmas tree for us, and had provided some decorations. We couldn’t resist buying more to add to them, and around the base of the tree, we scattered the fake snow (…just add water) we had bought in Los Angeles.
After checking out several NYC restaurants’ Christmas Day offerings, we decided to cook our own Christmas lunch in the apartment. We shopped at the Wholefoods store at Columbus Circle, where we found all the ingredients we needed, including fresh cranberries to make cranberry sauce.
Hoi An, Vietnam for Christmas
In 2012, we met up with our English exchange family (Britannia, her parents and her brother) for two weeks together in Vietnam.
Vietnam does the festive season in a spectacular way. Despite being a mostly non-Christian country (less than 8 percent of the population is Catholic or Protestant), they have embraced many of the Christmas traditions. The street lights in Ho Chi Minh City are stunning, and are left up for the Christmas period, New Year and Chinese New Year.
We arrived in Hoi An the day before Christmas Eve, and we were booked into the hotel’s ‘compulsory Christmas Eve dinner’, which turned out to be a hoot of an evening.
For Christmas Day itself, we were keen to find a restaurant that would serve a Christmas lunch that at least vaguely resembled what we considered to be traditional and we found it at The Cargo Club – a prawn entree, turkey with trimmings, and a chocolate or pavlova dessert. And then in the evening we had a Vietnamese meal as we cruised the Thu Bon River with Cinnamon Cruises.
Christmas Day in Hoi An was business as usual for all of the town. Shops, restaurants, tours etc were all open and operating. Apparently there was a town Christmas Eve festival/pageant at the church, but we were so caught up in our compulsory dinner we didn’t have a chance to check it out.
Other experiences of Christmas away from home
Both of our recent ‘Christmas away from home’ experiences have been significant milestones and created memories we will treasure forever. But the flip-side of the experience is that being so far from family (and the familiar) on Christmas Day gives you a refreshed understanding of the importance of home and a gratitude for some of the traditions your family shares.
Being away for Christmas is something for everyone to put on their bucket list.
But don’t just take my word for it…here’s some links to other bloggers who have spent Christmases away from home too:
- SJ from Chasing the Donkey has spent several Christmases away from home (in Paris, New York, across Australia, and her most recent one in Croatia). In this post, she offers some great advice on how to survive Christmas abroad. (I’d never before thought about the photo opportunities empty streets on Christmas Day would bring…)
- Josh from Travel with Bender took the public bus to the birthplace of Christmas itself…Bethlehem. (I’d imagine the three wise men wished there had been a bus back then.) In this post, he offers some great tips and advice for anyone wanting to visit Bethlehem for Christmas.
- Rachel from Life, Actually… discovered how a combination of her Italian, her cousins’ English and a lot of hand signals, led to a deep connection to her extended family in Pavia, Italy – a connection she will carry with her forever.
- Liz from Passport Packed is currently teaching English in Madrid, Spain. In this post she writes about the food, the street lights, the queues for lotteries and the Christmas markets that a visitor to Madrid could expect at Christmas time.
- Social worker, Jouljet flies in and flies out (FIFO) of her work on the Pacific Island of Nauru. Last Christmas Day was a regular working day for her, starting with a staff Christmas beach breakfast, which had ‘pancakes and cheer’ on the menu. This was a big contrast to the white Christmas she spent in Uppsala, Sweden.
- Megan from Pegs on the Line found herself in Jyväskylä, Finland for Christmas last year where the main day of Christmas festivities is (like many European countries) Christmas Eve. She discovers that Santa (who is in fact, Finnish) doesn’t fly in Finland, he’s strictly grounded.
- Marie from Marie Away will still be in Canada for Christmas this year, but over 4,000 kilometres from her family home in Newfoundland. She’ll be recreating some of her family’s traditions and joining the party via Skype.
- Sharon and her family from Where’s Sharon? experienced a warm Christmas in Cabarete, Dominican Republic, where they enjoyed a two and a half hour traditional three course lunch in an Irish pub right by the beach, and relaxed in and around the hotel swimming pool.
Have you ever experienced a Christmas away from home? Please tell me about it!
PS: Check back here on Friday when I’ll be posting my step-by-step guide for creating a memorable family Christmas when we’re travelling.