There are many times during the year when it hits home that you are an expat, Christmas happens to be one of them. There are many things we miss about the way we were able to celebrate Christmas when we lived in Britain. Of course foremost in our mind at this time of the year are the loved ones who will celebrate Christmas without us however internet technology has been a huge help in keeping us connected. We also have started sending more e-cards because sending cards abroad is really expensive.
For some expats, the first year is a honeymoon period where everything is novel and they love the rich experience of everything being new and different. Unfortunately our first Christmas wasn’t like that as were experiencing culture clash at about that time. Add to this the stress of trying our best to recreate a traditional Christmas for the kids.
One of the main difficulties was that we couldn’t find many of the traditional food items in the stores and when we could find them we often found that since they were imported there was an extortionate price tag attached. That first Christmas was saved by another expat family who invited us to spend Christmas day with them and since they had much more experience in the Christmas hunting arena we enjoyed many of the foods we had developed a longing for. For those of you who aren’t expats and don’t know what we are talking about try imagining Christmas without …
Christmas Crackers, Roast Turkey, Bisto Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, Sage and Onion Stuffing, Mince Pies, Christmas Cake, Christmas Pudding, Custard and Cadbury’s chocolate.
A Christmas tree available before the 24th of December Hot chocolate with marshmallows Ginger Cordial Christmas Stockings Tetley Tea What makes Christmas, Christmas? We have learnt that in order to enjoy Christmas as an expat, in a different culture you need to identify the things that are important about Christmas celebrations in your native culture and do what you can to improvise and make those happen. Everything else that you are used to you have to just let go of. Rather than concentrating on all the things we miss we are trying to enrich our Christmas by adding Hungarian things to our Christmas celebration. We have started to create our own family traditions and that has helped us to change our focus. Instead of longing for things we can’t get we now look forward to the unique things we can enjoy here. We experienced one of these new things this year when Christmas started with a visit to some of our neighbours to light the first advent candle and spend time together. During the evening we all sang traditional Christmas songs in Hungarian, German, Finnish and English. It was a lovely experience and one we would certainly like to repeat.
Part of our Christmas celebration now includes a walk through the Advent market in our city. The lights in the city are particularly beautiful and we love the atmosphere. We also love the variety of food stalls and now we wait in eager anticipation for the advent markets to open. There is a general buzz around us of Hungarian voices and sometimes Slovak or German voices too.
The 6th of December Mikulás Nap, or Santa’s Day.
Unlike most of the west, in Hungary Santa hardly features at all. He doesn’t come on Christmas Eve instead he comes on the 6th of December generally bringing chocolate. It didn’t take too long before we found out about Mikulás and his dark side-kick Krampusz. Like every expat we needed to make a decision about which traditions we would like to embrace and in our case we decided that since Mikulás nap fell on Roy’s birthday we would focus on the birthday celebration instead but taking the bits of Mikulás nap that we would enjoy. This means we all get chocolate on Roy’s birthday and if we go to a restaurant to celebrate we usually have to sing a Christmas song for some sweets at the end of the meal. It has made Roy’s birthday pretty unique!
Christmas Carol Service
We have a number of expat friends in our local area. Together we have planned a Christmas Carol Service so that we can celebrate Christmas together; plenty of Hungarians are going to join us too!
We don’t call Christmas a “winter holiday” because for us there is only one reason we have a holiday at this time of year and that is because of the birth of Jesus. Christmas just isn’t Christmas if we leave Christ out of it.
We thank God that our hearts have changed so much since the lonely first year. Now we are struggling to fit time with everyone we know in. The Ebenezer Scrooge within has finally been transformed. What he liked best was to “edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance.” He lived his life at arm’s length. As expats we can do the same but we need to be willing to embrace change, celebrating the old and welcoming the new.
Interestingly just as we were about to post to the web a package arrived from England. A good friend decided we needed some Christmas treats! We were delighted to find this Christmas won’t be without Christmas pudding, Gravy, Cadbury’s chocolate or Tetley Tea, there were lots of other goodies too. We are amazingly blessed with wonderful friends from around the world.
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