Singing ‘Jingle Bells’ on the beach, eating a barbecue wearing a Santa hat or seeing Christmas lights illuminated in 40-degree heat may sound like an unusual way to spend the big day.
ut for many Northern Ireland people living overseas, this is their reality.
Caroline McKenna, who emigrated to Australia five years ago, described spending Christmas abroad in a podcast in the hope that it will provide some comfort to those apart from loved ones for the first time this year.
Caroline, who is originally from Newcastle, Co Down, said that after spending four Christmases in the land Down Under “it gets easier over time”.
“This year is a tough one for many of us living abroad as we do not have the choice to go home, we have to stay, so there is a real sense of loss in the community, especially when our families are in lockdown at home,” she said.
“But just remember that you will always have home, it will always be there, it is just because this year you physically cannot get on the plane to fly home that it feels a little further away, but please remember it does get easier over time.”
Caroline first started her podcast ‘A County Down Under’ earlier this year detailing her life as an expat in Australia and, in just a few months, has surpassed 85,000 downloads and over 10,000 followers in Instagram.
Caroline said that, when news of the Covid-19 outbreak reached her in Australia, her life was turned upside down.
Last Christmas she was able to welcome her family over to Australia for the first time since she emigrated and said it was “just surreal” because there was a chance they would not have been able to fly due to the extreme bushfires.
Her sister, Rachel, ended up being in Australia for six months, but had to return home earlier this year when lockdown was introduced because she was on a working visa.
Caroline, however, was a permanent resident at the time and was unable to leave the country.
She said that in March she threw away all her Christmas decorations and proclaimed that she would “never spend another Christmas in Australia”.
“Little did I know what 2020 would bring,” she said.
Caroline said her first Christmas in Australia was memorable, despite feeling homesick.
“I arrived in Australia in October 2015 and didn’t realise that half the people I knew over here were actually going back home for Christmas, so I ended up spending it with a group of people I had only known a few weeks and it was actually really good!” she added.
“At first I was panicked about spending the holidays basically alone at the other side of the world, but I found out it was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Caroline advises trying to incorporate some traditions from home to get into the festive spirit when spending the holidays abroad.
“No matter where you are in the world, try to be in the moment, enjoy Christmas as it is in New York, Sydney, Canada, Dubai or wherever you may be,” she added.
“Put up a Christmas tree, listen to Michael Bublé, make your own traditions and remember why you moved abroad in the first place, to try new things, experience a different way of life, so just try to embrace it and remember that there will be plenty more Christmases back home and that this year more than ever, we all just need be grateful that we have our health.”