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Another Canadian Christmas

Another mark on the door-frame of expat growth

Expats are a tough bunch to please – trapped as they are between worlds. Here I am in Canada, so a white Christmas is practically a given, but for me, a Canadian one still leaves a thing or two to be desired. It’s funny how we can be deluged with captivating new experiences yet still crave old familiarities.

Christmas is traditionally a time for reflection and speculation, balanced ponderously on the coattails of the old year and the cusp of the new, it offers the potential for another chance to get things right, stay on course or make those changes. Like a bookmark, jammed between the pages of your life story, it’s a fixed point from which to look back and forwards – something expats do with dedicated regularity.“Remember when…”

Gazing down the funnel of previous months, I remember when Christmas was the salt rubbed into the fresh wound of amputated family and friends; the days when it felt like nothing would ever be familiar again. I remember the irrational feeling of deprivation at making do without traditional staples like bread sauce or brandy butter (not well-known in Canada) and the triumphant pioneer buzz of learning to make my own. Expats know better than many how necessity births invention and innovation. But in those early days happiness could be eclipsed by melancholy in the blink of an eye, and when my well-fed loved ones dispersed, I cleared the plates from the Christmas dinner table unseeing; my mind miles away on another continent, in another home, another time.

Ready to try

From the vantage point of the present, having been here before and moved beyond the clouded confusion of early expat emotion, I can afford an indulgent chuckle as I see just how far we’ve come. A bud of new familiarity has sprouted; evident as we half-jokingly consider wearing a “Christmas sweater” for the first time since childhood, or discuss buying some of that suspicious eggnog concoction everyone quaffs this time of year. Maybe we’ll attend the Santa Parade we found out about too late last time.

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Reveling in our British/Canadian Christmas mash-up, we’re adapting and growing, becoming “one of the gang” instead of independent observers. We’re adopting new traditions and welcoming the sense of difference instead of holding it before us like a leper’s bell. There’s nothing like a little sentimentality for helping you see the good in the world and we brim with warm feelings towards our new country and their funny ways. That feeling of being on the outside looking in has vanished and in its place, a quiet pride at what we’ve joined with.

“I wonder if…”

From this happy hillock of holly and good cheer, I shade my eyes and squint into the future. Will the nostalgia for home ever blunt? Will I discover a passion for hockey? Will I ever feel a sense of belonging, or will I outgrow the need to?

The year ahead is full of promise but to find out if it holds the answers, you’ll have to meet me back here next Christmas. You bring the sweater and I’ll supply the eggnog!

Happy Christmas everyone and thanks for your readership and comments throughout the year. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2013 and may the saddest day of your future be no worse than the happiest day of your past.

Aisha Isabel Ashraf is a freelance writer and author of the popular blog EXPATLOG – a collection of irreverent observations from her experiences as a "cultural chameleon". It's where you'll find her, strung out on caffeine, humorously dissecting the peculiarities of expat life for her own amusement and the benefit of future generations.

She can be contacted via the usual avenues (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook) – just swing by the blog for directions.

Read Aisha's other Expat Focus articles here.