herald

Friday 18 August 2017

After turkey with my Irish pals I'll hit Bondi Beach for the day

I've been in denial that Christmas is coming for weeks now. Despite hearing festive songs on the radio, seeing carollers in the streets and encountering flamboyantly lit trees on a daily basis, it still hasn't sunk in that I'm about to spend my first Christmas as an Irish emigrant Down Under.

Having celebrated the past 25 festive seasons of my life in the midst of an Irish winter, it's a dip to sub-zero temperatures that spells the dawning of December 25 for me.

In this topsy-turvy world of Oz, however, the temperature has been rising steadily for weeks as the southern hemisphere's summer season bears down on us, leaving the stereotypical white landscape we all associate with the holidays a distant memory.



bonus

And it's only going to get hotter, with my adopted home of Sydney set to break the 30C mark over the coming weeks. Even without the bonus of the warm weather, if you have to be away from home for the holidays, there's no better place to be than Australia. If there's one thing the Aussies do well, it's Christmas.

My office party this year, for example, involves taking a four-hour sunset cruise around Sydney Harbour, while across the city everything from karaoke carols to Christmas concerts to weekly fireworks at Darling Harbour have been in full swing since late November. You name it, they've thought of it.

The real showstopper promises to be New Year's Eve, when the harbour will be transformed with aerial acrobatics, a light show and the world-renowned fireworks display at midnight.

Unique celebrations aside, there is naturally an element of homesickness that comes with being away from your loved ones at this time of year.



expense

While I am lucky enough to be travelling home just in time to celebrate the New Year with my nearest and dearest, many of my fellow expats will go without seeing their family and friends.

Return flights to Ireland can cost as much as €2,000 at this time of year and that's before you take into account time taken off work and the expense of paying rent on an empty room or apartment.

Nonetheless, many of my Irish friends have opted to take the hit and make the long pilgrimage home for December 25.

Those of us who remain on this side of the globe on Christmas Day will band together, a large extended family.

In a nod to our home traditions, a group of friends and I plan to prepare a turkey and ham dinner on December 24, once the sun sets and the kitchen has cooled down, that is.

Afterwards we will likely gather at popular Irish bar PJ O'Briens, where we are guaranteed to get our annual fix of Fairytale Of New York.

Once the Skype calls to those at home have been completed on Christmas morning, the biggest decision to be made will be which beach to spend the afternoon on: Bondi, Coogee or Manley?

Currently Bondi is looking like the destination of choice for me.



turkey

Here, a large representation of the Irish community is likely to be present toasting the holidays with the customary beers and barbecues, before no doubt departing with the stereotypical Irish patches of sunburn.

It makes a big change from my usual Christmas afternoons spent in front of a roaring fire, watching the soaps, having gorged on a feast of my mother's home-cooked turkey.

My St Stephen's Day tradition of going to the races will remain on track, with one exception -- the outfit.

Instead of going to Leopardstown kitted out with an umbrella, hat, scarf and gloves to cover all weather eventualities, this year I'll be donning my sun dress, sunglasses and fascinator for the Rosehill races here in Sydney.

I am excited -- for this year, at least -- to see what my first Christmas in Australia brings. That said, in the absence of my close-knit clan at home, my ever-expanding expat family will have big shoes to fill.

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