A guest post contribution from writer, Kayleigh Herbertson….
If you’re travelling during the winter period, especially over Christmas and New Year then you have the potential to experience a huge seasonal event in an entirely different culture. This can create feelings of home-sickness for many but it’s also an amazing opportunity to experience the traditions far from home. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying two international Christmases, what did I learn from the trips?
Christmas 2009: Melbourne Australia
Fresh from graduating University, I took a working holiday in Australia and got to enjoy Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. The clearest difference is the temperature, which isn’t surprising seeing as December is the middle of summer for Australia. Feeling the weather get hotter and hotter as the season of giving approaches is very enjoyable but also disconcerting. It can feel difficult to get into the seasonal mood because all those unconscious signs of Christmas approaching are gone, at least as far as the weather is concerned.
Bizarrely, the traditional idea of a “white Christmas” is still alive and well in Australia, with the imagery being happily plastered over cards and businesses during the season. This was the strangest thing for me to adapt to and, when questioned, most Australian’s admitted that it was a little odd, considering that snow was an impossibility, but they also felt it was traditional. Because of their Anglo roots, many Australian Christmas traditions are perfectly aligned with those in the UK, which can help ease the potential for homesickness.
I stayed with friends during the festive season so I don’t have much advice regarding where to stay, however I will say that Melbourne offers a fantastically grand setting for Christmas decorations and celebrations. Australian cities are far more spacious than British counterparts, so walking around Melbourne during their winter festival was a beautiful and relaxing experience. Wandering around at night, enjoying the lights and decorations on the grand, wide streets was a very special experience.
I’m also not going to complain about spending Christmas day by the pool, that was certainly a big pro for spending winter in Oz! For me, the biggest challenge was the family disconnect. If you’re travelling during the Christmas holidays then get close to those around you. Make friends and be happy and willing to exchange gifts or you may find yourself feeling very lonely. I opened my gifts from my family in the morning and had to wait until the evening to even thank them. This was quite sad for me personally and I was glad that I had other people around me so I could enjoy the day.
Christmas 2011: Majorca
My winter trip to the Mediterranean was completely different from my Christmas experiences in Australia but it was still considerably warmer than I would have enjoyed in the UK. The weather is mild and rarely falls below 10 degrees celsius, plus that’s not too cold for someone like me to investigate the many beaches for a swim! Going for a dip on Christmas day is an amazing holiday tradition that I wouldn’t be tempted to repeat back in the UK…
My Majorca Christmas happened for a variety of reasons, including an ingenious way to enjoy an affordable holiday. Winter prices are excellent, thanks to it being the low peak of the season, and you also get to enjoy a far quieter and more intimate experience of Majorca. When venturing onto the beach it was incredibly easy to have the place to ourselves, or seek out beaches where we could enjoy the fantastic feeling of a private beach. I’ve not travelled to Majorca during the peak of the season but I had been full of concern that the area would be overwhelmed with tourism, drowning out the local flavour. Instead, we could wander freely around the beautiful towns and cities, although everything did tend to close pretty early.
During this trip, my partner and I treated ourselves to a Majorca villa, (which also happened to be considerably cheaper during the low point in the season) which meant that we had a kitchen to ourselves. I don’t know if a meal out would have had the same Christmas feeling as making our own but I’m glad we opted to create something ourselves. We went to a local supermarket and brought in a load of local ingredients, creating an amazing feast for the festive season. I’d even recommend that people try a break from the norm every once and a while on Christmas day because I felt so much less uncomfortable after eating a load of Spanish food than stodgy British fare. It actually opened my eyes to the idea of “tradition” not always being the best option.
It’s also worth mentioning that technology has made it easier than ever to get in touch with family across countries. The time diff between Majorca and England is negligible, especially compared to Oz, so we set up a Skype call and I got to chat with my family on the big day. We’re so lucky to have such technology at our fingertips but even a phone call can make a big difference on Christmas day. Make sure you’ve got WiFi or a phone card prepped and ready to go!
Enjoying Christmas in a foreign country has given me a range of unique experiences, as well as giving me an insight into what’s really important about the celebration. Although I did miss the cold weather (even the wet and windy weather that I naturally associate with Christmas down here in Devon) it was actually the family atmosphere that I missed the most. Being somewhere with a huge time difference really disrupted many favourite element of Christmas: speaking to my family. Going somewhere more nearby meant that I could still enjoy all the perks of more affordable travel whilst still being able to drop them a line easily. If you find yourself taken with wanderlust during the winter months then I’d advise you go for it! You might discover what’s most important to you when the nights get longer.