This is the first Christmas I’ve spent away from my family and hometown. For the most part, I’ve not been homesick since coming to Australia. I think because I’ve traveled a fair amount in the past, homesickness isn’t something that gets to me anymore. Of course, I think of my family and friends often but I also know that I am here for a reason. Thinking of home too much will only make my experience abroad sad and lonely.
With the holidays, it was difficult to keep thoughts of home at bay. I often thought of my parents, my sister and all the traditions we usually share on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I thought of my grandparents, my aunts, uncles, and cousins. My extended family still celebrates Christmas together so it was difficult to think of not seeing them this year. I saw Snapchats and video chatted with my parents but, of course, it’s not the same as actually hugging and seeing the people you love.
Christmas in Australia is just a bit weird for someone that’s always lived in the Northern hemisphere. Christmas day was in the 80’s. I spent a couple of hours in the morning laying by the pool and swimming with the girls- not a normal part of my Christmas itinerary. Even leading up to Christmas day it didn’t feel Christmas-y. Shops weren’t blaring Christmas tunes. Decorations were not as over-the-top as they seem to be in America. There were no extravagant Christmas displays in shop windows. It was low-key by American standards, which I didn’t mind. I don’t usually get very hyped around Christmas time anyways. I’m more of a Thanksgiving fan- more time eating, less time shopping!
My Australian family was very kind in inviting me into their Christmas celebrations this year. They normally travel to Brisbane for Christmas so it was an anomaly for them to be in Sydney this year too. Their previous au pair, Kayleigh, and her friend, Sandra, also celebrated with us. On Christmas Eve night the six of us helped wrap presents from Santa and listened to Christmas music. I don’t usually spend Christmas morning with kids, so it was fun getting to see the excitement on the girls’ faces as they opened their presents. Later on Christmas day, we went to a friends’s home for Christmas lunch. Though it felt a bit strange to be celebrating Christmas with people I’d never met before, I felt welcomed by everyone’s kindness. It’s a humbling experience to be an “outsider” on the biggest family holiday of the year. I was the only person in my twenties and the only American among 25 people. Besides Kate, Dan, the girls, and I, everyone was related. It’s a challenging situation, to be a non-family member celebrating together and I will forever have an appreciation for those who travel or away from family during the holidays. I felt included in the celebration, though. I participated in a white elephant game, had lovely conversations with many of the host’s relatives, and, as the host welcomed everyone around the table, received cheers when he welcomed me to my first non-American Christmas.
For me, Christmas abroad reinforced one of the most important lessons traveling has taught me: that people are good. No matter what corner of the world you are in, there is a very strong chance that you can find someone to show you kindness when you need it most. As a solo female traveler, this is not always the story I am told. Back home I don’t know many solo female travelers because it is seen as too dangerous. Of course, there are very real dangers to solo female travelers and it’s important to be aware of them, but it’s also important not to let fear of unknown people and places dictate your life’s experiences. Christmas day abroad and alone could have been a miserable experience but thanks to the kindness and goodness of my Australian family and their friends, I had a lovely first Christmas abroad.