I’m a migrant. People speak the same language here as they do in the country we came from, so that made it easier to fit in. After 37 years I identify more with the country we moved to, but I still notice differences and my childhood cultural references fall flat. Most people don’t know that I came from somewhere else until I start telling them things about my childhood. For example: the Christmas before I turned five, I had my photo taken not with Santa but with a monkey that danced on the top of a barrel organ played by a man in a top hat. When I told a friend that story, she asked whether I knew Charles Dickens personally.
At the work Christmas party last week we all asked each other the usual “what are you doing for Christmas” question. Some people rolled their eyes and told sagas of driving from A’s house to B’s house to C’s house to try to please everyone. A colleague from Shanghai told us that in her city everyone stays out late on Christmas Eve, shopping and partying and looking at sparkly displays of lights and decorations. Then they go to work the next day. She’s a bit disappointed that everything’s shut here at Christmas.
I asked a Czech colleague what she’d be eating for Christmas dinner if she were still in the Czech Republic and her answer was: “Carp and potatoes,” which was not at all what I was expecting her to say, because “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the FEAST of Stephen” and carp and potatoes doesn’t sound very feast-like. It turns out that St Stephen’s Day is after Christmas, so I guess that explains the modest Christmas dinner; people have to leave some room.
In my family, chemotherapy was someone’s Christmas present last year. We’re a small family unit anyway because everyone else still lives back in Europe, and the thought of becoming smaller weighed heavily on us. But this year we’ll be pulling Christmas crackers and clinking wine glasses because everyone’s still here. We’ll be groaning from eating too much of Mum’s excellent Christmas pudding with plum sauce. We’ll time travel by phoning relatives who are still stuck in Christmas Eve when we’ve already started Christmas Day. We’ll play Christmas carols about snow and holly and reindeer and then we’ll put on our cozzies and go down to the beach and thank our lucky stars that we moved here.
P.S. As you can see, I have a bit of an obsession with decorating office desks. They look so much nicer like this, don’t you think?!