All over the world expats are preparing to celebrate Christmas in another culture. It can be a bittersweet experience, particularly for those who are away from home for the first time. On the one hand you are missing friends, family and the familiar traditions of home. But on the other hand there may be local customs you can join in and new friends who can sometimes seem as close as family due to shared experiences.
Our first expat Christmas was held in Baku, in a predominantly Muslim country and where the few Russian Christians celebrate the Orthodox Christmas on January 7. Most expats had left for vacation over the holiday period and the handful of us who remained decided to get together for a potluck Christmas dinner. We had several nationalities attending and as a result had a wonderful range of dishes. We had brought a birthday cake as my son is a “Christmas baby” and unable to find birthday candles in the local stores I’d brought a few small sparklers to light. Unfortunately they sprayed with cake with metallic spots, but we just scraped off some of the frosting and ate it anyway! After dinner we turned out the lights and sang carols by candlelight, a truly magical memory.
The next two Christmases were spent in the same rather grim temporary apartment in Dubai – the first time we were enroute to Cairo and the second time were enroute back to Dubai. With all our household goods in transit, a mini pre-decorated Christmas tree on the coffee table had to suffice.
Subsequent Christmases in Dubai fared much better. We made some very close friends and so always had someone to share Christmas Dinner with. When our son headed off to university, he’d always visit us over the holidays which made it extra special. And although you might not expect it to be so in a devoutly Muslim country, in fact Christmas is well celebrated in Dubai. Many expats say there are more festivities and decorations than in their home countries, where political correctness has frowned them in recent years.
This year we’re celebrating in our home in Canada for the first time in 5 years. I’m looking forward to pulling out my old tree decorations, some dating back to my childhood, but many purchased or given to us while living overseas. There are the beautiful blown glass ones from Egypt, the delicate handmade lace ones from Azerbaijan, and the scruffily embroidered stocking I made in the UAE but which brings back happy memories of the “Stitch & Bitch” group which was such a support for me when I first arrived. It’s going to be great to celebrate at home after so long away, but there will definitely be a toast to absent friends at my dinner table this year.