I love Christmas. I absolutely love it. Most of all, I love the build up. The irony is, that the six weeks or so leading up to the big day is without a doubt, the busiest time of year for me and so often pretty stressful. As for most mum’s (and yes I’m fairly convinced that in the vast majority of homes it is the mum who bares the brunt of organising Christmas), the planning, shopping, wrapping, writing of cards, attending the school plays/carol service/fair, not to mention the socialising (oh and going to work, so most of this stuff happens in the evenings), has often left me on my knees. So the prospect of a Christmas without any of the above was very appealing when we were planning our trip.
I had managed to reach the grand old age of 42 without spending a single Christmas away from my family. Pretty impressive! Well maybe not impressive – actually quite unusual, but gives a little insight into the person I am; Someone raised to be both independent and confident, yet with incredibly strong ties to home, my immediate family and friends. (Also someone who at 40, realized they’d never flown too far from the nest and sought to change that up a bit by travelling around the world!)
We were lucky enough to spend the first three weeks of December in Whistler, Canada. As we rolled into town, the snow was falling, Christmas trees were twinkling with fairy lights and we put on jumpers and boots for the first time in nearly a year – it felt magical. We were joined by some family and good friends and together with the cold weather, snow on the ground and mulled wine, it created a perfect backdrop for the Christmas build up. Strangely it really didn’t feel Christmassy at all and if that didn’t feel like Christmas, it was probably a clue that flying half way around the world to the hot sunshine down under probably wouldn’t either!
On the 22nd December we arrived in Sydney. Being back in the sun (after all of three weeks) was wonderful! We met up with some of our best friends from home and it felt like we were on a holiday from our Ireland Hopping travels. What it didn’t feel like was Christmas. Why was this even noticeable to me? See paragraph one!
Arriving in the lovely house we’d rented for a few days, I felt happy, relaxed and ready to flop by a pool, but also aware of a small sense of ‘something’s not quite right here’. My friend Sarah, also a Christmas-lover, agreed how wonderful it was to escape all the organising for one year and how fantastic it was going to be, come Christmas day, to sit on the beach with a burger in one hand and a glass of Prosecco in the other. I think we both totally believed this and yet the absence of anything resembling Christmas – a tree, decorations, mint chocolate matchmakers etc, made it a little hard to ‘get into the festive spirit’ and for me, gave way to a creeping sense of something like homesickness.
We has a visit from another family from home who happened to be in Sydney. It was so wonderful to see them, including one of Lola’s best friends. I thought she might wobble when they left, but no, she’d had a fab time with her mate. It was me who felt a little like jumping in their suitcase to be transported (just for a day or two) back home
As Christmas Eve arrived and the forecast for the next few days was a cool, 20 degrees with wind and rain, I was feeling very definitely homesick. For me, this was a deep, gut-wrenching, longing for home and all that is familiar, mixed in with a load of internal self talk berating myself for feeling that way and how I needed to pull myself together and be grateful blah blah blah. I realised then I had been hoping for and expecting something resembling my version of Christmas and given my only experience is in England, with my family, a Turkey, Christmas pudding, Viennetta, a roaring fire and large quantities of red wine…well that was a pretty silly expectation! (Side note: I actually did manage to score some Viennetta in Woolies supermarket, so we were all good on the frozen dessert front…much to Keith’s horror!)
At this point I had a word with myself. Something I do fairly often with varying degrees of success. It went something like this: You love Christmas. You love spending that time with your parents, sisters, brother and the kids. You’ve done it for 41 years. You’ve been away from home for nearly five months and you haven’t really felt homesick at all. You’re on the other side of the world. You couldn’t be much further from home and all that’s familiar, so it’s understandable you might be feeling like this. Give yourself a break. AND you’re having the most incredible time travelling the world. This is the year to beat all years. You wanted to explore and experience everything that isn’t familiar and you’ve got it. You have the rest of your life to sit in that front room in Winchester, drinking all the drinks and laughing at jokes no one outside of the Archdeacon clan would find funny.
And something shifted.
On Christmas morning we woke to the wind, rain and the wise words of 8yr old Gracie Grondona; “Well now it feels a bit more like Christmas!” Santa had managed to deliver six little sacks for six little girls with small, travel-friendly gifts. We’d done such a good job of managing expectations that Lola was heard exclaiming “There are actual presents in there!!” With the present opening over in a record-breaking 10 minutes, we had the day ahead to enjoy. Not quite the day we’d had in mind, but a blustery walk on the beach, (I was in a woolly jumper – the kids were in the sea), a beautiful BBQ lunch and the traditional arguments over a Christmas game, made for a different and really memorable day.
As I went to bed that night, I looked at my phone to read some of the messages and flick through social media. Bit of a mistake. I got a pretty good taste of how that stuff can play into and magnify any feelings, no matter how small, of sadness, homesickness or missing out – even when we all know that people only ever share the ‘best bits’ and not the argument about who farted during a game of ‘Who am I?!’
The next day I woke to much brighter skies and the sense of relief that my (totally self-imposed) expectations of what a particular day should be and feel like had dissolved. A hike to North Head in Manly to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, a fabulous lunch in the harbour, a ferry trip to the city, Keith and Sarah climbing the Harbour Bridge and supper with great company, made for one of the best (and certainly most active) Boxing Days ever!
So our ‘Ireland Hopping’ Christmas 2017 was an ‘Un-Christmassy Christmas’ and because of that, probably the one I shall remember the most about in years to come. What do I take from all of this? Well yet another reinforcement that my experience is created by me. That my expectations, hopes and fears are what makes the difference and when I free myself from all these, I can just get on with living in the moment and enjoying what shows up. Simples! Well maybe not simples but I’ll keep on working at it.
Happy New Year lovely people (oh and watch out for Christmas 2018. We will be hitting the traditions hard!!)