Homesick for the Holidays: Celebrating My First Christmas Away from Home

Young woman making a call at Christmas on her mobile phone to wi

On Christmas Eve, I stood in my tiny galley kitchen melting butter and marshmallows to make Christmas wreaths, the sticky, Rice-Krispie treat that had been my favorite Christmas cookie since I was a little girl. In the background, Louis Armstrong sang “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” but it was decidedly not chilly. Even with the air conditioner running and the carols cranking, there was no hiding that Christmas in subtropical Brisbane, Australia, would be very different from my usual holiday in New Hampshire. Yet somehow I figured if I tried hard enough, I could bring my New England Christmas experience Down Under. This was my first Christmas away from home, and I still couldn’t accept that this holiday would be different.

And in denial I stayed, until the next day. I was celebrating the holiday with my then-boyfriend (now husband) and his family. The first sign that things were amiss was when we awoke to a frantic call from his father — Where were we? It turns out his family likes to open presents in the morning on Christmas rather than after dinner like I was used to my family doing. We grabbed our gifts and dashed toward the door, being sure to bring the cookies and fudge I had made the night before.

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As we unwrapped gifts and ate dinner in the heat, I tried to enjoy the novelty of a summer Christmas. Sure, I was embarrassed that I didn’t bring enough presents (my family never prioritized them), and I did a decent job holding it together until dessert. But when I uncovered my plates of goodies and found the Christmas wreaths melted into globs and mushy fudge, I could feel my sadness coming to the forefront. It turns out that recipes perfected for a New England winter don’t hold up very well in subtropical humidity.

“What are they?” my soon-to-be relatives asked, trying to make me feel better. I, however, was too busy crying over melted cookies, which seemed to signify everything that was missing from the holiday. I was more homesick than ever.

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The next year, I was better prepared to celebrate Christmas on the other side of the world, away from most of my friends and family. I was no longer looking to take my New England Christmas – full of garland and snow and twinkling lights – and transplant it in Australia. Instead, I focused on the unique aspects of celebrating Christmas in a new place. I shopped without a heavy coat and went swimming on Christmas Eve. I awoke early to exchange presents with my new family and ate a traditional Christmas Pavlova instead of the rich desserts I was used to.

Letting go of my expectations of what Christmas should be allowed me to focus on the traditions that were really important to me. I listened to my favorite Christmas carols an embarrassing amount and went out of my way to find a fir tree in a country that doesn’t have many. On Christmas Eve, I video-chatted with my family at home in America and smiled watching them running around in scarves and stockinged feet. I accepted that Christmas in a new place wouldn’t be the same and allowed myself a bit of space for sadness about that. Then, I enjoyed the Christmas that I had, in a new place, with new loved ones and new traditions.