Happy Home Christmas! CategoriesExpat Life · Travel

Happy Home Christmas!

The very first post on this travel blog was entitled “Happy Expat Christmas!” and told of the trials and tribulations of celebrating the holiday season overseas, far from friends and immediate family. After last years’ celebrations in Pattaya, Thailand, I decided that it was well past time I arranged a trip home to the UK. I booked my flights very early in 2017 and now, at last, I’ve used them.

For this trip home, I was flying with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. This means I needed to take a three-hour flight in the wrong direction before a 12-hour flight into Manchester, UK. This brought my longest continuous time away from my country of origin to an end. Until this trip, I had not been back in the UK for three years, two months and 16 days. Incidentally, this was also my first long-haul flight in the same amount of time.

The flight and journey home were exhausting but unremarkable, so I’ll skip that bit and get straight to the fun.

Christmas Eve

My Mum always considered Christmas Day to be “for the kids”. She knew that she and the other adults would have a busy and potentially stressful day ensuring that the children of the family had a fantastic day. In preparation for that, and via some story involving a boys-only work’s Christmas party, every Christmas Eve saw the parents enjoying a special meal of Lobster Thermidor. Of course, the children are now all grown up and I now join them around the table for this bit, too.

As well as my Mum and me, this meal was enjoyed by the youngest of my three older sisters (Fiona), her boyfriend (Stefan), my older brother (Duncan), my step-dad (John) and my girlfriend (Anita). For dessert, Anita prepared a fantastic fruit salad, which we followed up with endless conversation and equally endless glasses of Prosecco with peach schnapps. One of these two was one of the essential things I was really looking forward to about coming home. Can you guess which?

In this case, I was sat with Fiona, Anita and Mum. We shared stories, one after another, frequently swapping teller. This is a big part of what got me into journalism and, from there, into this blog. I love stories and hearing them. I enjoy learning, certainly, but a personal story has something more to it. Unlike cold and clinical facts, a story has emotion to it. Fear, excitement, joy amusement, concern; they’re all tempered by time and hindsight, transforming an experience which may have shaken you to your core at the time into a funny tale you can giggle about with likeminded friends and family.

Christmas Day

Mum's main Christmas tree, surrounded by gifts, in Selby, UK

Distressingly hungover, I slowly woke on the 25th December to another family tradition: starting Christmas Day with crumpets. Something else I missed from my three years overseas, I had mine with lashings of butter and homemade jam. Before scoffing mine down, I had gone around the house and turned on all of the decorations. This year, Mum went all-out, and her modest bungalow in Selby, UK looks like the Blackpool Illuminations.

After that, we opened our presents. With a full house, it was quite a bumper year, and the pile of gifts spread from under the tree to take up quite a lot of the corner of the living room. I had brought quite a few myself to give out and had ended up spending a surprising of the 23rd wrapping.

I had a great haul, which I’ll cover in a second. However, the difference between an expat Christmas and a home Christmas wasn’t the gifts I got, but the gifts I gave. My dad and step-mum in Thailand opened their gifts before I’d even woken up last year. This year, the recipients were all sat right around me and watching their reactions is what makes the whole process really special.

There the giggles as Mum tried to figure out what exactly the penis-shaped soap (a fairly common sight in Thai tourist markets) I’d got her actually was. There was delight as Stefan inspected the handmade hammock I’d bought him in Koh Lanta, and delight from me as he uttered that all-important phrase: “That’s exactly what we need!” Another one worthy of note was my gift to Fiona – The Flaming Marshmallow’s Guide to Campfire Cooking, by my friend Nikki Fotheringham. The author was a big travel inspiration for me, and Fiona was a big professional inspiration for me. As the label said, I was sending this gift “from one inspiration to another”.

What I Got For Christmas

As I said, my gift haul was very good. Fiona and Stefan got me three photography guide books, which will certainly prove to be a big help. Duncan got me a very fine bottle of whisky, which I will enjoy very much. Anita had previously bought me a new pair of shoes, which I’d urgently needed because the old ones were trashed. Mum made me a couple of new pairs of trousers, including a camouflage pair which will come in very handy for airsoft, though not as helpful as the new wallet (with cash included) will! Even my Dad in Thailand bought me something online, getting it shipped to Mum’s house in the UK – a very swanky travel bag.

One of my favourite gifts was a brand new DJI Spark drone, which I actually bought for myself from the limited duty-free shopping available at Phuket International Airport. Just for giggles, I still wrapped it up and placed it under the tree. I had thought this was a unique and original idea, but my brother actually did exactly the same thing with a bottle of whisky he’d bought for himself!

At The Table

Christmas dinner in Selby, UK
Christmas dinner. Pic Credit: Anita Tang

Another family tradition is the table present, and mine was a new travel journal, which is perfect for me. These were opened after the first part of the Christmas dinner – a couple of gorgeous homemade Yorkshire puddings with lovely onion gravy, which is something else I have really missed over the past three years.

This was followed by the whole Christmas works: turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, pigs-in-blankets, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, mashed carrot and suede, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, all covered in lashings of onion gravy. Even though I have professional chefs as one of my sisters and my girlfriend and despite my frequently reviewing outstanding restaurants over the last three years, no food in the world beats my Mum’s Christmas dinner.

The rule for food on Boxing Day (today) and the following few days is “if you’re hungry, go find food”. We have a kitchen full of food, including Mum’s outstanding honey-roast ham and a fantastic homemade pork pie – again, things which I have really missed over my years away. Talking of which, I’m getting hungry…

I hope you’ve all had a very Merry Christmas. I certainly have!

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Ben has been an expatriate since he was 21, a writer since he was about 10 and a photographer since he was 12. Degema Travel is the culmination of that experience.

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