We asked North East people now living all over the world as ex pats how their Christmas is different. The answers include a women-only dinner, opening presents on Christmas Eve, eating seafood salad on the beach, a guaranteed white Christmas and Christmas at New Year!
Lesley Tan in Miri, Malaysia, is from Tynemouth. She left the UK in 1980: “I am living with my husband Tony Tan and his family in a beautiful part of the world, Miri (which means beautiful in the local language), which I imagine not many of you have heard of, Sarawak, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. This is VERY close to Brunei, which I expect many of you HAVE heard of!
“We are almost sitting on the equator, so, YES!! The weather is VERY hot and humid! So at Christmas time we are looking for Air-conditioned rooms rather that log fires!
Typical Christmases for us used to be buying a turkey from a good friend, Philip Ng, who has a restaurant, Café Miri, and he does a roaring trade spending his Christmas Eves roasting dozens of turkeys for the likes of me whose oven is really not big enough!
“When my kids were young we used to try and make an effort and make a Christmas dinner for my Chinese in-laws, but we got put off seeing Brussels Sprouts, turkey and chipolatas etc sitting on the bed of rice which they insisted on having, together with CURRY??? And soup???
“Lately we just go out and eat someone else’s turkey. One of the best is our Ladies Christmas Dinner (No men), which last year, and this, is held in The GCM, Miri (Gymkhana Clu Miri)! We have a choice of food, but I always choose turkey! (I wonder why??)
“We have a great natter, drink, socialise with friends we have not seen for a year (LOL) and a Kar-A-OK sing song with all of the old songs and a few semi drunken great friends having the times of their lives!
“There will be another Ladies Christmas Dinner at the same venue this year and I am really looking forward to it (They may even manage to find a ‘look-alike’ Father Christmas which we had in the old days to give out the presents, we each buy one for around RM20 (not an easy task to find a good one as this is around 4 quid, but we usually do).”
Anne Jewit in Cape Town, South Africa, is from South Shields and left the UK in 1968: “My husband Jacky and I left the UK on the 5th of December, we have only had one Christmas in the UK. I hate Christmas in Cape Town; it’s too hot, the Christmas trees look awful and I miss the frost, the dark nights, the shops and most of all my lovely family – so in other words we just have to make the best of it!”
Shaun Leonard in Lucerne, Switzerland,is from Sunniside and left the UK in 1994:“Well I won’t be coming home (to Toon) for Christmas, but instead I will be here in Switzerland, which means of course that I will miss seeing the family, but will celebrate a much more quiet affair with my wife and daughter here, although with my parents turning into to digital natives at the age of 70+ we will be able to skype back home on the 25th.
“We will definitely have a white Christmas as we go skiing during the Christmas period, the last few years the weather has been superb at Christmas with great snow, although the days are a little short and of course quite cold, in the mountains the temperature is often well into the minus degrees for months on end, but if you get a sunny day, the light reflected on the snow gives a fab tan.
“As mentioned I will be off skiing, so I will be off for 2 weeks over the festive period, which is celebrated on the 24th in the evening here, as it is in most central European Catholic strongholds, therefore we have a traditional fondue in the evening whilst opening gifts with a glass of champagne, but on the 25th I invite the neighbours over and we have a traditional English Christmas lunch with all the trimmings! So I get the best of both worlds. The trees here are always the real thing, and are only purchased and decorated from the around the 15thish onwards, often only on the 24th during the day.
“The Swiss make a great Christmas with lots of traditional festivities, and the build-up to the big day is often celebrated on the Christmas markets in the towns throughout December, this really is a great way to get us all in the spirit in the absence of the tree until later in December.”
Kim Brown in Brisbane, Australia, is from Gateshead and left the UK in 1999:“Christmas in the Antipodes is so vastly different to Geordieland, it’s certainly not the same. It just seems so weird seeing Santa Clauses everywhere, false snow, hearing Xmas carols and having to drink iced water to cool down and put on sun lotion in the 40 degree sunshine, even after 14 years, it’s something I will never get used to!
“We did do a traditional Christmas dinner one year, a huge turkey, sprouts, Yorkshires, Xmas pudding and custard…the whole Geordie works but it turned out to be a 40 degree day and it was just too darn hot to eat and enjoy it. Last year, we did the traditional Aussie Christmas dinner, BBQ, ham on the bone, salad, seafood and of course fresh strawberries and cream…and it’s definitely not the same at all!
“This year, we are not making the same mistake and have booked ourselves a 4 hour Christmas banquet at a hotel in Brisbane city, we are still getting a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings but with the added luxury of air conditioning and with any luck, they will even drop the temperature to a balmy -5 degrees to make it more like home!
“I do put up our Xmas trees and decorations just like home but with the added difference that we have three trees, one small one for indoors and two bigger ones for outdoors, our Xmas lights are also outside too and we have so many, it looks like Fenwicks window in its own right!
“Every December since I left in 1999, I get very melancholy, and I wish I could be transported back to Geordieland (without the 24 hour flight to get back), to see Fenwicks window, to wrap up against the cold and to do Xmas shopping and see the Xmas lights on Northumberland Street in the dark, to have steamed up windows from cooking the Christmas dinner with carols playing in the background, to chill out in the afternoon watching a Xmas classic movie stuffing me face with chocolates and of course, to spend it with my family, Christmas is when I miss them the most and no matter where I am at Christmas, to me, there is and will never be no place like home!”
Mike Innes in Swabian Alb, South West Germany, is from Wallsend. He left the UK in 1976: “Germans love the Advent and Christmas period and enter into the spirit of Christmas at the end of November. For example, my neighbour came around on the last day of November with an Advents tray that she had made herself, tray and all. A wooden tray, decorated with pine cones, with a silver reindeer and pine tree and four advent candles. It has taken pride of place on the dining room table.
“The German Christmas markets open towards the end of November. In the bigger cities until 23rd December. Small towns usually have a two or three day market on one of the weekends in Advent.
We always go to the Stuttgart market when it opens. It is supposed to be one of the largest markets in Europe. The smell of caramelised nuts, mulled wine, gingerbread spices and more is all part of the atmosphere. The booth holders compete with each other for the best decorated booth.
“For the first Sunday in advent we set an Advents wreath with four candles on the coffee table and decorated window sills with holly, ivy and pine branches. Coffee and cake with friends and then we light the first candle.
“Christmas biscuits are also a German tradition. I usually spend a couple of afternoons in the kitchen baking up a storm. We collected a lot of walnuts on our walks this Autumn, so I made five kinds of biscuits with walnuts in or on them, plus four other types.
“On the 6th December is St. Nicholas day when young children receive smaller presents. St. Nicholas arrives with his sack of presents, but also with birch twigs. It’s usually a friend of the family who has received all the necessary information about the children – good deeds and bad. The young children are nervous and very excited. St. Nick tells them off for the bad deeds, but makes sure the good deeds outweigh the bad one. Presents are given and the family, minus St. Nick, have dinner together.
“In our house the Christmas decorations and tree go up on 7th December and once the tree is decorated, we sit down for coffee and cake and light two candles on the Advents wreath.
“For the following weekend I usually fly back to Newcastle for five or six days to visit cousins (two in Wallsend and one in Cockermouth). I usually meet up with a few old friends in Wallsend Hall to catch up. I also like to look at Fenwick’s window.”
“Christmas Eve is the traditional time when presents are exchanged, carols are sung around the tree and the family eat together. We keep everything a bit more British.”
“On Christmas Day we have roast goose, red cabbage, and a special kind of dumpling (Böhmische Knödel) which is the traditional
lunch. My German mother-in-law taught me to make the dumplings. I can only explain them as boiled bread. It’s a yeast dough with finely chopped fired onion and back bits mixed in. When the dough has proved, I knock it back and form it into a cigar shape. Once it has risen it is lowered into simmering water for 15 minutes on each side. Once out of the water it needs to be cut into slices with crossed over thread (image attached). Dessert is usually something light.
“We sit around the table for two to three hours. No crackers, no plum pudding and no mince pies.
“On Boxing Day we do nothing!”
Danielle Kelly Watson in New York is from Lemington. She left the UK in 2011:“Fortunately I come home to Newcastle for Christmas. But, I do enjoy thanksgiving in NYC and sometimes Pennsylvania, Lewistown. It is very different but a good experience! A few weeks before Christmas the whole family go on a annual tree hunt and saw down the chosen festive tree.
“The extended family get together on Christmas Eve and exchange presents and drinks. Then on Christmas Day the immediate family stay in doors and exchange gifts (all gifts are addressed “with love from Santa” which I found perplexing as I didn’t know who to thank) in the morning, followed by a bacon, sausage, egg, syrup and pancake breakfast.
“For Christmas dinner the meal consists of a joint of ham, baked corn, stuffing balls, white gravy and potatoes. I did attempt to make mint sauce and of corse, Yorkshire puddings to go with the Christmas dinner! The Yorkshire puddings went down a treat.
“Mealtime over they sit and watch old movie classics like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph.
“Sometimes we are lucky enough to have a white Christmas in NYC, It was snowing just before we left for the UK last week. You also hear a lot less “Merry Christmas” and a lot more “happy holidays” in America.”
Neil Porter in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, is from Seaton Delaval and left the UK in 2012:“This is my second xmas here in Mongolia. It’s a Buddhist country so Christmas isn’t a holiday, just another working day. They do have Xmas trees (all artificial) and they do have decorations but what they call Xmas is New Year.
“The picture is my Christmas dinner at school last year, with a Xmas card made by some students to make me feel at home! The meal was buuz; a mongolian traditional dish of steamed dumplings with mutton inside. This year I have really gone to town and baked my own Xmas cake. The weather will be a high of -18c and a low of -25c, but it’s very dry so it will be a white Christmas but just heavy frost, no snow.”
Maggie Begg in Montreal, Canada, is from Gosforth, and left the UK in 2009: “Our first Christmas here seemed magical; it started to snow on 9th December and by 24th it looked like Narnia. It was really special for the kids to wake up on Christmas morning to a white Christmas for the first time in their lives.
“Then it continued to snow, and snow….and the snow stayed until mid April. What also comes with the snow is terrifically cold weather, we are talking down to −40 degrees on occasion, so forget trying to look glamorous going to a Christmas party – you wear heavy boots, hat, gloves and a duck down coat. The ferry closes and people just drive over the lake or drill a hole and go ice fishing.
“Christmas Eve seems to be the main day for family parties here, and Christmas dinner is usually late in the day – we still maintain a 2pm feast. The food is a little different too – maple syrup seeps into many recipes (maple bacon is particularly tasty), and Christmas pudding is tricky to find. Christmas TV is poorer due to there not being any reruns of Only Fools & Horses, but the adverts are much the same (toys until Christmas quickly followed by sales).
“There’s lots to do here, especially for kids – there’s a winter festival with Ice Hotel in Montreal, local Santa parades and pantomimes, and almost every park has a free ice rink made for the winter. One of our most Canadian (or perhaps Quebecois) experiences was at a local Sucrerie where maple syrup is made. You are picked up from the car park in a horse drawn sled and taken to the main barn for a typical local meal served on long, shared trestle tables, as you listen to live music, including guys playing the spoons and a saw!
“Canadians take their outdoor Christmas decorations seriously too, often going up mid November and staying until it’s warm enough to get them down again which can be in March or April. One local person even has theirs coordinating with Christmas music and accepts donations for a local charity.
“It’s wonderful here at Christmas….but I’d still love to go to Fenwick’s to do my Christmas shopping and visit my Mam on Boxing day for left-over turkey sandwiches.”
Tracy Morren in Christchurch, New Zealand is from Washington and left the UK in 2012: “This will be my 3rd Christmas in a row away from the UK, having spent my past 2 Christmas’s in Thailand and Australia – its summertime here now in New Zealand so the weather is warming up just in time for the festive season. It’s very strange having Christmas when it’s the summertime, it doesn’t quite feel so Christmassy, with it not being dark and cold all the time. This year I will be spending my Christmas Day on the beach with my friends, we will be having a BBQ and a few drinks. Definitely no Turkey with all of the trimmings in sight.
“I’m quite lucky where I work here as our office is actually shutting down on Christmas Eve and not re-opening until 5thJanuary which meant none of stress and hassle I used to encounter back in the UK when I was wanting some time off over the festive period. The 2nd of January is also a bank holiday here, so everyone get that day off as well as New Years Day which is a great bonus as it is the time of year people want to spend time with friends and family.
“A few of the people I live with (also expats) are actually going back to the UK for Christmas so we don’t have a Christmas Tree up in our house, so it doesn’t feel overly festive for me. But I do I have a good few Christmas cards and my advent calendar and we have some snow stickers on our windows which my best friend sent me from Newcastle so I could have a white Christmas!
“At work we have really got in to the festive spirit and we have had a works lunch on site where we had a BBQ lunch, a live band and even Santa made an appearance with a lot of sweets (or lollies as they call them this side of the world) we have had a Christmas Tree competition amongst the teams at work where we all got very creative in making our own style of Christmas tree which was a lot of fun and instead of swapping cards we have all donated cans and foods to the Salvation Army. On Christmas Eve the office closes at lunchtime and we will be heading to the pub in our Christmas T-Shirts – it’s far too warm for Christmas jumpers here.
“Christchurch is going through major repair work from the earthquakes so the city is more of a huge building site so there isn’t a lot of Christmas decorations up but there is the odd street with some nice decorations out but definitely nothing like what we get in Newcastle! I would love to see all the decorations around the Monument and the outdoor Ice Rinks!
“After all the Christmas and Boxing Day fun I will be using my time off work to head up to the North Island to spend some time travelling around there for a week enjoying even warming weather up there hopefully! And spending New Year’s Eve in the capital Wellington.
“I would love to be home for Christmas so I could visit the Christmas Markets, see my friends and family and of course have my proper Christmas Dinner! But at the same time it’s quite nice spending your day in the sunshine outside – I am definitely more of a sun than snow person!”
Geordies Abroad: Tell the Chronicle your story