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A Very Foreign Christmas

Whether you relocated two years ago or twenty, Christmas can always be counted on to remind you of “home”.

Holiday attire in the States does that for me.. Oh yes, it’s not just the people standing in for Santa who dress up around here. For the subtle look we have ear-rings that look like they belong on a Christmas tree, some take it a little further with red scarves, perhaps a little sparkle here and there, and then there are others who feel the need to remind everyone about Christmas – on their chests.

American author Mike Harling (postcardsfromacrossthepond.blogspot.com), now resident in England, just can’t get used to fireworks at Christmas time. “I have willingly absorbed most of the Christmas traditions of my adopted country, and the holiday season is richer because of it. But the one thing I continue to find jarring is all the fireworks. The towns set them off when they light the Christmas lights (or they used to before the money ran out) and they are a feature of many holiday parties. Watching fireworks in the damp and cold, however, without a barbecued hotdog in one hand and a plastic cup half-filled with warm beer in the other just isn’t the same. Fireworks mean sultry summer evenings, the glow of a newly minted sunburn and Lee Greenwood blaring from the speakers. Here it means an extra layer and an umbrella.”English Blogger Potty Mummy (potty-diaries.blogspot.com), now living in Russia is still on a big learning curve when it comes to Christmas:

“Christmas can be a confusing time for expats living in Russia. Santa doesn’t necessarily dress in red over here. In fact, you’re much more likely to see him in blue, or occasionally in a fetching shade of green. The bods at Coca-Cola are doing their best to change this (they ‘own the red Santa’ as one marketing exec memorably put it recently), but so far the locals are holding firm to their blue one. And actually, whilst we’re on this, he’s not actually known as either Santa or Father Christmas; his name here is ‘Father Frost’ (Ded Moroz), which is signified by the frost crystals often decorating his white cloak.

The communists weren’t keen on Christmas, so for 80-odd years it didn’t officially exist. Instead, the nation was encouraged to celebrate ‘Novy Gorad’ – New Year – and presents were given then, along with a table heaving with favourite food. So in living memory, the New Year celebrations were the Big Deal, not Christmas. Whilst that’s now changed – the Russians love a nice tree as much as the rest of us – there is still one crucial difference; the Orthodox calender is approximately 14 days behind that of the Western churches. Consequently, as far as most Russians are concerned, JC didn’t arrive until 7th January, so New Year arrives before Christmas – which can make buying your decorations and trees well ahead of time in the way that many expats like to do (what with most of us leaving the country over the break), something of a challenge.

However, the actual date of Christmas is of little consequence, because the Russians are a canny lot; rather than ignoring our Christmas entirely, they simply use it as an excuse to pack up early for their holidays, meaning they get the best of both worlds. Well. No-one ever said they were stupid…”

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And English author Vicky Gray, now in Australia, just can’t get used to celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer. “Usually putting the Christmas tree up would be a wonderful festive experience, every year my family and I would be all rugged up, sipping mulled wine and making merriment with the shiny baubles while listening to Slade belt out their infamous Christmas anthem on the radio. But this annual event has never really been the same since we moved over to Oz.

For starters, although I managed to track down one of the most impressive ‘fake’ Christmas trees in Queensland, it still isn’t quite the same as picking one from a Christmas tree farm and having the festive smell of pine encompass the house for a couple of weeks – instead, I end up dripping with sweat in 33 degree humidity, my bare skin being repeatedly torn to ribbons by the plastic branches while my toddler inadvertently smashes the glass baubles on the floor tiles.

Instead of the warm fuzzy feeling that this tradition has always been in our house, since we moved to Australia, my children all disperse when I yank the Christmas tree out from the attic and flee to areas of the house that I didn’t even know existed. Thankfully they get 6 weeks holidays to recover from the trauma of Christmas tree decorating.”

Like I said….Nothing like Christmas to make you miss home.

Toni Summers Hargis is the author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom", (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.