Thursday 22 March 2018

It'll be lonely this Christmas without you

Not everyone can get home for holidays and being stuck abroad without family can mean the festive blues, writes Arlene Harris

Snow people: Philip Breen’s children Eireann, Shane and Cian in Helsinki, Finland
Snow people: Philip Breen’s children Eireann, Shane and Cian in Helsinki, Finland
Tracy Donegan with her son Cooper at the beach in California
Aoife Murphy in Australia
Caroline Rocliffe with her husband Jimmy and children Hannah, Ashlee and James at Norquay ski resort in Canada

Arlene Harris

The dulcet tones of Chris Rea will serenade many travellers as they drive home for Christmas this year. But thousands of Irish emigrants will be celebrating the festivities many miles away - some in the sunshine, others in the snow. And while most will enjoy the cultural differences in their adopted homelands, there are bound to be a few distinctly Irish traditions they pine for.

We caught up with emigrants in the four corners of the earth to find out what their Yuletide will entail and what they will miss about home.

Tracy Donegan has been living in California with her husband Philip and sons Jack (13) and Cooper (6) for the past two years. Originally from Dublin, the 45-year-old moved to Silicon Valley to set up the Gentlebirth app for expectant mothers.

"Although Americans take decorating to a new level, once December 25 is over it's back to work. On St Stephen's Day, all the Christmas trees come down and are put out for the bin men, so that's a bit of a shock to the system," she says.

"When it comes to seasonal food there's a lot we miss - such as Christmas cake, pudding and trifle - although thankfully our parents send us Irish hampers with lots of goodies. But I really miss the tin of Quality Street in front of the TV, particularly as the programmes here are generally horrendous so we really miss the Christmas specials from home.

"Like most emigrants we just miss the craic - catching up with everyone and seeing friends and family, going to the local and spending Christmas Day with the kids and family. Skype just isn't the same."

She adds: "Whenever I hear 'I'll be home for Christmas' or 'Fairytale of New York' I have a little sniffle. And it's particularly hard as our parents are getting older. Every time I'm home I wonder if it's the last time I'll see them. We'll probably come home next year with the boys but in the meantime, we hope our family and friends have a great Christmas and we'll see you in 2017."

Aoife Murphy (24) from Clare is living in Melbourne, Australia, with her boyfriend Kevin Dolan and has just finished a Master's in Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

"I've always wanted to see more of the world, so I moved here in January 2014 to work and study. Unlike most immigrants I am an Australian citizen, courtesy of my parents living here for a while in the 80s, so that made moving here much easier; I had an amazing godmother to stay with, I don't need to worry about securing a visa and I have universal healthcare.

"I'm now living with my boyfriend Kevin, who came from home with me, along with Australian housemates who I consider part of my surrogate Australian family," she explains.

"Because it is summer here, you lose a bit of the atmosphere. I've managed to impose a few traditions on our friends, such as a 12 Pubs of Christmas and waiting for the tree to go up until December 1, but for the most part Christmas here can feel somewhat hollow.

"Kevin and I were lucky to get home last year, much to the delight of our parents. But this year the budget just couldn't stretch to it and homesickness has taken hold in a big way. But rather than wallow on Christmas Day we've decided to avoid it entirely. We're heading to Tasmania for two weeks and will probably spend the day hiking or on the beach.

"So while the atmosphere at Christmas is important and so is the turkey, the shopping and all that jazz, I will miss my family the most. I have missed important births, deaths, weddings and milestone birthdays in 2016, so adding Christmas to that makes it tough. My family is from Kerry so we usually congregate there at Christmas and that's what I'll be particularly lonesome for. I will miss them all and I'll be home next year, even if I have to crawl - but I call shotgun on the big room!"

Caroline Rocliffe moved to Canada with her family over two years ago. Together with her husband Jimmy and children Ashlee (17), Hannah (11) and James (9), the Dublin woman relocated to Calgary where she works as a midwife.

"Christmas is such a magical time so we will definitely miss being with our extended family on my husband's side. We always spent Christmas morning with the paternal grandparents - the whole family would gather there to exchange gifts and it was one of the few times in the year where we all got together - so the kids really miss that. We Skype regularly and we are hoping that they will come to visit Calgary someday as the children really miss them," she says.

"The weather here is crisp and cold at Christmas so it's very festive - a picture postcard. Our kids are embracing the outdoors life, skating, sledding and tubing, all done with laughter and lots of hot chocolate.

"We have maintained a lot of Irish traditions - kids are excited to open presents in the morning, have a chocolate coma by breakfast and they love playing with gifts. A little (or a lot of) homemade mulled wine while prepping dinner and then once dinner is over we watch the English soaps and 'Call the Midwife' (of course) tops it off and sets us up for the post-dinner nap," she adds.

"We are lucky that we have my sister, her husband and kids and my parents here but we would love to tell all of our family in Ireland that we miss them every day and wish them a very merry Christmas. Our door is always open."

Philip Breen lives in Helsinki with his wife Linda and their children, Shane (19), Cian (8) and Eireann (5). The 46-year-old met Linda (whose father is Irish) in Dublin in 1995 and has lived in Finland for over a decade.

"I moved to Finland in 2005 for a better life with Linda - or as I like to say, she put me in a container and hid my passport!" he laughs.

"Christmas is very different here to what it is in Ireland so we celebrate it twice. First we have the Finnish one on December 24 with ham, smoked fish and carrot and turnip casserole. We also drink 'glögg' with almonds and raisins which resembles mulled wine.

"On this night, all of the family are gathered together and Santa Claus visits the children personally - he comes in through the front door and hands gifts out to them while the reindeer are waiting outside in the snow.

"Then on Christmas Day we will have a few drinks and an Irish Christmas with turkey and ham, stuffing, gravy, roast potatoes and the rest. But it's different to the dinner in Ireland. While I won't miss home so much as I have been here for so long, I do miss the traditional Christmas dinner. And on that note, to everyone I know in Ireland - have a great Christmas."

Irish Independent

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