Friday, 23 Jan 2009 Home Advertise Contact Us Site Map Testimonials Disclaimer

Expatriate Services

Christmas: a time for all

The three stages of man. First; he believes in Santa Claus. Then; he doesn't. Finally; he is Santa Claus. Andy Law ponders what it's all about and how this festive season affects the different members of the expatriate family.

Christmas is for children. And like most good things in life, the anticipation can be as exciting as the actual celebration.

As a child I was stuck in a boarding school in 'sunny' south London for seven very long years. I would count the days from the beginning of the autumn term in September to the day I flew back to Asia to see my folks for the Christmas holidays.

There was nothing better than attending the school carol service, having the school Christmas dinner and knowing that in less than 24 hours you would be on that plane proudly displaying your 'Unaccompanied Minor' badge on a 14 hour journey to the tropics.

Seeing the back of your highly-strung tyrannical housemaster for a few weeks made it all the merrier a Christmas.

Arriving severely jetlagged, the next couple of days would be spent eating, seeing family and friends and Christmas shopping. Christmas was never a particularly religious affair in my family, but was a time when our family gathered together, and friends visited, wherever we lived in the world.

Childhood Memories

My best memories of the Christmas holidays remain crystal clear. My favorite present? A large handmade wooden truck made by my engineer father for my three Action Men (No; they are not dolls for boys, they are manly action figures for men with guns, camouflage uniforms, crew-cut haircuts and scars on their faces).

The best food? Anything cooked by my mother: from Indian to Chinese to Malay. A very welcome respite from boarding school 'fusion' cuisine; how many times can spam be recycled and fed to schoolchildren under a different name before it goes past its best-to-eat-by date?

The worse Christmas? When my father was called away at the last minute to do some work overseas.

When we lived together as a family in the UK many years ago, a real white Christmas with heavy snowfall wasn't unusual. I remember one of my father's family get-togethers on the big day and my petrified younger cousin having the life scared out of her as this character, dressed in red, walked up the back garden into the living room, tried to sit her on his knee and then pulled out a package with her name on it from his big sack.

I have an image of everybody trying but failing to pull her out from her hiding place behind the large sofa.

But then again, a large man dressed entirely in far too much red, with a big wino-like red nose and rosy red cheeks, and too much white facial hair, is enough to scare the begeebees out of most adults, let alone youngsters.

That same beloved uncle is now doing the same for his beautiful little grand-daughter and recently born grand-son.

Or another time when we were living in Spain, my younger sister and I left brandy and mince pies for Santa Claus out on our apartment's balcony. How did he find us in our new home overseas so quickly?

And we couldn't believe that his reindeer had left real hoof prints on the ground and drunk from the water bowl, spilling water everywhere.

Nor could we believe that Santa could drink so much and still manage to circumnavigate the sky in his sleigh for the rest of the night delivering presents to all of the local children without getting lost. The magic of Christmas has always been made for families, by families. Fast forward thirty years and all has changed.

Growing up with reality

It was when I relocated with my London-based publishing company to live in the US that my eyes were first opened to the fact that Christmas had become just another excuse to get into debt. While skirting around the religious aspect, to such a degree you could barely even associate the event with the person who gave it his name.

Known as the Festive or Holiday Season over there, I was always amazed at the extent to which my friends and colleagues across the pond would go to, in order not to call a spade a spade.

And no, this last expression is not an ethnic slur. It is derived from a very old Greek expression, used to describe blunt or disarmingly honest and accurate statements. That's two fingers to you politically correct readers out there.

Don't mention the 'C word'

In New York I would receive cards from colleagues, clients, vendors and anyone else hoping to get a slice of my budget dollars for the following year. The various greetings emblazoned across the front ranged from Happy Holidays to Festive Greetings, from to Happy Kwanzaa to Happy Hanukkah and so on.

Yet few, if any, ever mentioned the 'C word'. Not seeing the wood for the trees is how I describe this vain attempt to accommodate the city's multi-culturalism.

My colleagues would greet me with a bland and neutral 'Happy Holidays'. You mean Merry Christmas, I would ask? "Well, yeah, but no, but yeah, but no" they would reply, much like the verbally challenged Vicky Pollard of Little Britain fame when put on the spot by her class teacher.

It's about everyone

We are a very broad church at this publication, if you will excuse the religious analogy, much like our readers and the diverse population of this country in which we are welcome guests.

For starters, just look at the diverse and unusual characters (some more than others) that can be found writing for this esteemed organ, or those involved in the publishing and advertising side of the business.

All will spend Christmas differently. Yet all will spend it doing the same. Hopefully in the company of loved ones and family, talking, eating and drinking.

During Malaysia's different religious festivals throughout the year, people of different faiths have always extended their open house invitations to drop in, celebrate, eat and drink, regardless of your race.

As curious to find out more about you, as you are to share and sample your host country's culture, it is a type of hospitality that you would be at pains to find in other parts of the world.

In Malaysia, Christmas Day may not necessarily be the same as back home, although I am sure there are expatriates out there determined to replicate their celebrations out under the tropical sun with all the other mad dogs and Englishmen.

You can still have your slap up roast beef, turkey or BBQ with the family, and go to the pub to meet your friends. Nursing a large glass of alka seltzer, that well known pain relief medicine, is another morning-after Christmas experience you can still find anywhere in the world.

What is different about celebrating Christmas overseas is that you get to experience how other expatriates as well as those from your host country celebrate the occasion. Make the most of it while you can. You'll miss it when you have to return home.

'Selamat Hari Natal' from a half Scottish, half Chinese Brit mix, still practicing to be a good Catholic, about to marry a Hindu from Penang.

Editorial By:
Andy Law

Newsweek Showcase Archive Articles:

Expatriate Services for Expatriates Abroad

There are many considerations for expatriates who are in the process of relocating or who have just arrived in a new country ..........

Being an Expatriate: What does it mean?

An expatriate: a person who has left their home country in order to reside temporarily in ..........
Matt Bellotti (Expat in Asia)

Campbell Cohen Law Firm - Canadian Immigration
215 Redfern Ave. Suite 118
Montréal QC Canada H3Z 3L5
Tel: 1.514.937.9445
Toll-free: 1.888.947.9445
(USA and Canada)
Click here for more information