December is here and another Christmas season away from our respective ‘homes’ is almost upon us. Despite the fact we’d have liked to be celebrating with Mr B’s family this winter, the fact is we can’t afford it and so we’ll be making the best of it in Belgium. I don’t know about you but something about taking down dusty ornaments and unpacking old treasures always brings back a flood of memories.
Traditionally, my family put up the tree and started decorating on the first Sunday in December. After assembling the silver tinsel tree (this was the late 70s after all) and adding the lights, my parents would generally let us add the ornaments by ourselves and my sisters and I would do this while singing every possible Christmas carol we could think of at the tops of our voices. My first Canadian Christmas with Mr B was a few months before we were married. My request for a white Christmas was granted and one magical afternoon I was (probably the only one) thrilled to wade through the snow to a ‘cut your own’ tree lot, something that just doesn’t happen in the UK. The crispy air, fresh pine scent and pulling the tree home on a sledge is something I won’t forget.
The contrast with our first married Christmas in Mumbai could not have been more different. For a week I’d been suffering typhoid (not something I’d wish on anyone) while working thousands of miles away in Jakarta. It was touch and go if I would be feeling well enough to make the seven hour flight ‘home’ to my husband of 9 months. But get home I did, to find the wonderful Mr B had somehow managed to track down a tiny conifer tree and had decorated our tropical home beautifully.
Which brings me back to Brussels and this Christmas. Unpacking the ornaments is now like holding the adventures of the last few years in our hands. There are treasured glass baubles from Mr B’s childhood; beautiful wooden snowflakes in alder we picked up in Prague with Mr B’s parents a few years ago; a rhino from South Africa my mum found on the way back home from our wedding and surprised us with; small embroidered pillows from India; a bauble featuring the Great Wall of China that T haggled for during a tense 45 minute period in the Pearl Market in Beijing for me; ornaments from a great trip to experience the life our friends S&S were living in Japan; stockings my sister tracked for us when we went to visit her one year in the desert heat of Dubai; and more recent, very traditional, additions from Lauscha in Germany. Lots and lots of reminders of how lucky we are to have seen all we have seen, to have broadened our horizons, to have met some great people and tried things we would not otherwise have done.
Christmases far from home are not easy but as ever with expat life it is the small things that help. Finding a way to tune in to a the Service of 9 Lessons and Carols each Christmas Eve on BBC Radio 4 never fails to bring a lump to my throat but means ‘Christmas’ to me. For other Brits it is hunting down crackers or mince pies or the ingredients for brandy butter or turkey in countries that do not celebrate Christmas at all. The alternative is to embrace the ‘otherness’ and throw off the shackles of tradition. Have a BBQ on the beach when you are used to 6 feet of snow, trek through the jungle, volunteer at a local charity, climb a mountain. Do whatever you need to do but try to look around and enjoy the crazy hunts and even the disappointments because when you do eventually get back to your ‘real home’, you’ll have many more memories to savour and share.