For me Christmas means many things; the birth of Christ and Christmas carols, quality time with family and friends, Christmassy food & decorations and of course snow on Christmas day. But as I pause to review preparations for this year’s Christmas festivities and the joy of two baby grandchildren, memories are rekindled of Christmases past and I pause to remember the loved ones who are no longer with us.
Christmas can be a lonely time for many expats or indeed anyone rich or poor, who is, for whatever reason, separated from their loved ones during this festive season.
However, it may not only be family and friends you are missing but also traditional foods and even the weather. The weather says she? Yes, unfortunately I’ve noticed we Brits do have a tendency to dwell on the weather. For instance, does Christmas day on the beach sipping champagne and eating mince pies in the sunshine while paddling in the sea with Santa resonate “Christmas” in quite the same way as a “White” Christmas back home? Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder, and a “White” Christmas is actually only an illusion promoted on Christmas cards. In truth, the chance of a white Christmas is extremely slim. The reality is probably closer to heavy rain, fog, black ice, traffic chaos and severe weather warnings kindly issued by over-anxious TV or radio presenters. “Do not travel unless absolutely necessary”, they caution. Does this sound familiar?But we can dream.
Maybe a beach Christmas, although not traditional, is not such a bad deal after all! However, before you start yearning for a warm sunny Christmas day on the beach. it might surprise you to know that in our corner of Portugal it has rained on the last two Christmases.
What about Christmassy food? Which foods do you associate with Christmas? When I think of a traditional English Christmas dinner I always think of roast turkey served with sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts and parsnips, followed by Christmas pudding or mince pies served with brandy butter and oodles of thick double fresh cream. Goodness, my mouth is watering already; the taste buds are jumping for joy in anticipation and the heartburn tablets are already within reach!
As I wander round the supermarkets in Portugal I’m fascinated to discover the “Christmassy” food preferences of other nationalities as I peep in their shopping baskets. Do you think greater exposure to traditional Christmas food from other countries has influenced your own Christmas menu? We have certainly discovered some interesting new foods such as German Stollen, Italian Panatoni and Portuguese Bolo Rei and Bacalhau (salted cod). I don’t think they’ll replace the mince pies and Christmas pudding, but they’re certainly on my Christmas shopping list.
The only thing I dislike about Christmas is shopping for presents. It’s not that I don’t like giving but it’s deciding what to buy, how much to spend on whom and on what. As the recession bites deeper and the cost of living in Portugal continues to rise at an alarming rate I’ve found we’ve shopped less in the local shopping centres and more online which offers not only a greater selection but also better value!
Finally, if we put aside the commercial aspect of Christmas along with our own personal preferences, what is the true meaning of Christmas?
I believe the owner of our local bar summed up the meaning of Christmas perfectly when he proudly displayed a Nativity scene in his bar. At first people ribbed him when they saw the enormous glass tank displaying the ceramic figures of baby Jesus in the crib, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and three wise men along with various farmyard animals. To set the scene he’d carefully placed the figures on fresh straw and moss with a small cluster of fairy lights for illumination. There was no fancy Christmas tree with baubles and lights or an “embarrassed” apology for displaying his family Nativity scene in a public place, but a proud and simple reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.
Please join me and raise your glass to toast absent family and friends all over the world!
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