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Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Christmas Exile

The weather is outside is… well, considering it's December it's pretty balmy but then I'm in Dubai. This time last year I was home in Ireland (for the first Christmas in 7 years), the year before in Chiang Mai, the year before that Oman… and so on. When you choose an expat/nomadic/travelling life you may consider that Christmas may be spent somewhere else and that maybe it will be a novelty. If you're an expat maybe you've committed to the chaotic challenge of the trek home for the holidays, with thousands of other harried travellers facing queues, delays and arm-breaking bags full of duty-free alcohol.

I've grown accustomed to being away this time of year because although I enjoy travelling, I would rather not set foot in an airport between December 12th and January 5th. I have been repeatedly proven right that what can go wrong will go wrong with travel during these dates… in 2013 I couldn't get OUT of Thailand because even the slow boat down the Mekong was booked up, last year in the early days of January, I experienced 36 hour delays (and horrible attitudes) by Qatar Airways when there was some morning fog in Dubai, and a friend had someone throw up in her hair onboard a flight five years ago during the season… Merry for everyone but her!

I remember my first year in Dubai, presents had to be arranged so far in advance and a lovely cabin crew friend posted them from London for me (at the time there were no direct flights to Dublin), now we have numerous online sites to make that easy. I used to use a prepaid card to call home from a landline, which also meant they had to be home. Now, I can call my family for free, without even a telephone connection. In 2004, I had Christmas dinner in the Dubliners pub in Garhoud with my co-workers before I worked the evening shift serving everyone else theirs at the Irish Village. Things have certainly become easier but Christmas is still about family. I'm lucky that my extended family are spread across the world and grateful each year that cousins, aunts and uncles have invited me into their home to celebrate over the past few years and this year I got to celebrate with a new arrival in my cousins room after seeing my godson on Christmas eve and again on Christmas night. Family comes in many guises; it doesn't mean I miss Mom, Dad and Nickki any less.

It also means I get to learn about and sometime share in other traditions; most Europeans celebrate on Christmas eve, rather than Christmas Day, and it seems that my family have always unknowingly prescribed to this too - we've always had a family dinner and opened presents on Christmas eve, whereas most Irish people are having drinks in their local that night. I lived with a Swedish friend who explained that it was more traditional to have a selection of seafood rather than turkey, ham and stuffing. Even within my country, there were differences: whilst I lived in Kerry, I grew familiar with the tradition of Wren Boys, which I hadn't known growing up in Dublin. Whereas I always seemed to be in some form of transport on St. Stephen's Day (known as Boxing Day to the UK or 26th December) so I could head out to party that night, this year it was all about playing games in my PJ's. In 2013 on the 26th, I was visiting a renowned mountain temple in Thailand. I love the variety that my life and exposure to other cultures brings.

I have no idea where Christmas in 2016 will be spent, hopefully somewhere new and interesting and the idea of still being away is fine with me. I am perfectly content with my nomadic/expat life and as long as it keeps bringing surprises and adventures and often detours from the norm, then I will embrace every second. I hope you all had a wonderful festive season and all the best for 2016.