Christmas away



David Whitley looks back on Christmases spent overseas, and wonders whether it’s so bad to miss the traditional turkey and trimmings after all

Christmas, to many people, is a time to be at home with the family. To do it the non-traditional way is some sort of sacrilege. Why would you want to be travelling on the other side of the world at Christmas time? 

Well, if I had to list my top five Christmases in order of enjoyableness and memorability, all five would be the ones I spent abroad. Sorry, mum and dad. They were all spent in Sydney, the first as a backpacker planning to move on soon afterwards, the other four with increasingly stronger degrees of having settled down. 

Not a single one of them had the sprouts, central heating and woolly hats I’d associate with a ‘proper’ Christmas, but somehow they felt more festive. The thing to remember when you’re overseas for Christmas is that you’re not the only person in that situation. Unless you’re hiding out deep in the jungles of Borneo, there’s a very strong chance that there will be plenty of others around who haven’t got their family and the trimmings to hand.




And that’s where the alleged Christmas spirit comes in. Mum won’t be there, Dad won’t be there, your racist uncle and his horrible children won’t be there. You won’t be able to just sit on the sofa all afternoon, filling your face with chocolates and watching a film. You won’t have the turkey scraps to eat later. There’s no set way of doing things, no long list of family customs to mark out the day, no well-worn path to tread along. And that’s what makes it special – because it’s all about what you decide to do and what you make of whatever’s to hand. It also becomes a tremendous bonding experience. 

You see those people around you – sat in the hostel, in the guesthouse next door, nearby on the beach – who are in the same boat? Well, they’re your family this Christmas. The impromptu party you manage to organise is what counts; the silliness and inventiveness you all bring to the occasion and the ideas you settle on a couple of days beforehand. Christmas whilst travelling is almost certainly going to be different. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Take it the right way, and that Christmas is highly likely to be your most memorable. 

This is partly because it will be so different and partly because you have to put yourself into it. It will be the Christmas you created rather than went along for the ride with.