The build-up to Xmas - 8 things an expat misses the most
Like many of my fellow Brits, Christmas is my absolute favourite time of year. On our little island, we really love it. It is a time when you can almost forget the realities of life, and instead bask in the warm bosom of the old traditions. You know exactly what to expect from Christmas. The Pogues will be on the radio, Doctor Who will be on the TV. It is the exact same box of Quality Street gifted by your brother each year and the inevitable squabble between your parents about whether we have too much or too little food (both true stories in my family). Yes, a large helping of déjà vu is as big of a part of the Christmas feast as your nan’s stuffing.
Other families’ Christmas traditions have always fascinated me. Some people open presents on Christmas eve, some people go partying. Some have pork pie for their Christmas day breakfast, some get started on their chocolate. Some families get dressed up and dine out whereas some stay home in pyjamas all day. It is entirely unique to every family and we find it hard to imagine Christmas in any other way.
The weeks preceding the day itself, are just as ingrained with rituals and annual customs. These are often more universally agreed upon, and they set the backdrop and piece together the big Christmas puzzle just in time for the 25th. Therefore, for people like myself who live abroad, it can be a little disheartening and disorientating to fly home just a few days before Christmas day. Depending on where we live, we either miss this build up entirely or have a bizarrely skewed and other-worldly version. Here are the 8 things I miss the most about December in Britain:
1. Gift Shopping
Many people complain about the dreaded UK high street, especially when the festive season is upon us. However, since moving away, I have a new found appreciation for it. Here in Hong Kong, the thought of battling through snail-paced crowds in polluted, stinking streets to find the one ‘normal’ store amongst the Gucci and Pradas is enough to send anyone to the comfort of Amazon to buy their yule tide gifts. By comparison, the UK high street really does come up with the goods in terms of the abundance of choice and the Christmas buzz in the air.
2. Christmas Adverts
Though adverts are normally an annoyance, those around the Christmas season are a definite exception. Essential viewing includes the John Lewis and Coca-Cola adverts as well as those documenting the nail-biting competition between Asda and Tesco for the cheapest carrots.
3. The Weather
Here in Hong Kong, 15 degrees is considered to be a cold day. I miss wrapping up in coats, scarves and hats. I miss bracing myself for the bitter chill of the freezing cold as I leave home. I miss the steamy warmth and Christmas cheer of a proper English pub. I miss sitting by the fire in my dressing gown. I miss radiators instead of the incessant buzzing of air conditioning units. You can keep your dark morning get-ups though, Britain. They’re a step too far.
4. Food Shopping
Obviously, food is a big part of the joy of Christmas. Mums start hoarding it from way back in November and as soon as Halloween is over, the shops are hit with a tidal wave of deliciousness. We’re consumed with thoughts about all of the yummy goodness we will soon be devouring every time we do the weekly shop. There’s Bailey’s in 3 new flavours, advent calendars in all varieties and tubs of chocolate which, might I add, get 20% smaller every year! Meanwhile in Hong Kong, we’re paying £6 for a box of mince pies in M&S. Worth every penny.
There’s no better way to get into the Christmas spirit than a good Christmas market. Who doesn’t love a relaxing stroll around those cosy little stalls? Interesting gift ideas, mulled wine ladled into polystyrene cups and the sound of carols filling the air. Hallelujah.
Both annoying and totally necessary, the music is a staple of a British Christmas. You hear it everywhere. It becomes the soundtrack of your life during the month of December and a constant reminder that it is, in fact, nearly Christmas. Just on the off chance that you might forget. Leave the UK, however, and you barely hear it. Spotify to the rescue!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a good film is on TV, you have to watch it. Even if you could watch it any day, any time on Netflix or on a good old DVD. A mixture of the sentimental Christmas vibes and the good-fortune of a decent film being broadcast mean that it feels like a betrayal to let this opportunity pass by. So, grab a hot chocolate and some cosy slippers to snuggle up on the sofa. Having no TV or sofa mean that The Grinch and Love Actually may have to wait for my return.
One of the most cherished Christmas rituals is a family venture to choose the tree (once you go real, you never go back) and decorate the house. There are needles all over the floor, cats trying to claw their way to the top and boxes upon boxes of familiar, dusty decorations, each with their own tried and tested places. The stress and squabbles are all worth it when you can finally bask in the glow of the fairy lights.
Christmas is coming and I am excited already!