How To Spend An Irish Christmas Down Under
Stranded away from home for the holidays? Here's how to simulate the Irish Christmas experience...
This time exactly one year ago, I was gazing out the window at the blue skies of Australia as a cool summer breeze ran through my hair.
I was chilling in my apartment in a comfy pair of flip flops and the temperature on my AccuWeather app read 29 degrees. It was hard to believe it was late December and that Christmas Day was fast approaching.
Christmas in such an meteorologically alien place is a peculiar experience, especially for natural home birds like us Irish, but you can still make it special.
So what should I expect from an Aussie Christmas?
Beach bods, board shorts and BBQs? Not for this Irish gal. Let me explain.
Two Christmases ago, I was joined by fifteen of my closest Irish friends on the Thai island of Koh Samui for the holidays, a place renowned for its noisy nightlife and loose laws. As the hangover set in late on St Stephen's Day, I vowed never to spend another Christmas away from home.
Last year, several of my fellow Irish expats embarked on the arduous journey home to be reunited with family and friends. However, since I'd spent the last couple of months before Christmas 2014 swanning around Melbourne like Bill Gates, dropping hundreds of dollars on espresso Martinis, bloody brunch dates, and feckin' myki travel passes, I wasn't able to afford the $2,500 ticket back to Éire.
Thus I'd been left with no other alternative but to force my French and Belgian roommates to participate in the most traditional of all Irish Christmases this side of the equator.
Now I'm a bossy Irish female at the best of times, but when it comes to Christmas I go into bossy overdrive. Like my bossy mother and her bossy mother before her, I had appointed myself chief Christmas decorator, cook and games co-ordinator.
l even took on the role of Mr. Claus himself.
Phase 1: Order the turkey
All of you at home may not be aware of this, but not everyone in the world celebrates Christmas like the Irish.
In many homes the turkey is not the focal point of the Christmas dinner table. It's often replaced by lamb on a spit, slivered beef cooked on a hot stone and in many cases, lasagne. Not in this household though!
I took an Irish, old school approach to this dinner. I took sole responsibility for ordering the bird, defrosting, marinating, and checking it every ten minutes for six hours while it roasted.
In the end, I managed to source an 8 kilo bird from a local. It just about fit in the oven.
Phase 2: Sort the breaky
To me, Christmas isn't Christmas without an Irish breaky. A bit of advice for those Irish who are currently contemplating emigrating to Australia... If you like your sausages, stay put lads.
There isn't a nice sausage to be found in Oz and believe me, I've tried them all! However fear not… Taste of Ireland has come to rescue the Irish diaspora from the perils of Australian sausages, tea, crisps, chocolate, gravy and curry sauce. The Taste of Ireland website takes you on a virtual tour through the culinary delights that we all grew up with. The products are so enticingly sentimental that you find yourself purchasing items that you don't even like, purely because the associative memory transports you back to a rushed school lunch break sitting on a cold wall in Templeogue village with only 20 cents in your pocket and no other option but to buy a Refresher.
So there we have it, another $99 had gone on treats such as Clonakilty Blackpudding, Irish sausages, Butler's chocolates and 7up Free. All the little things Irish living at home take for granted.
Phase 3: Games and alcohol
If there's one thing Christmas celebrants around the world have in common, it's that we all enjoy a drink. The French roommate had their wine, the Belgian had great beer, while this Irish woman brought the Baileys for the White Russian cocktails.
Now in my ignorance, I once again assumed that everybody knows how to play charades. I was wrong. Said roommates had never heard of the game up until late November of last year, when I began educating and training them in the basics of the game.
It proved an incredibly difficult task and after at least twenty minutes of watching my 29-year-old Parisian roommate trying to re-enact John Travolta's twist to Chuck Berry's 'You Never Can Tell', we decided to pack in the training and hope that copious amounts of alcohol on the day would ensure that if the games were in fact a total fuck up, at least we'd get a good laugh out of it.
With all preparations complete, it was time to review the cost. All in all, let's just say I would've had half of my flight home paid for with the amount I'd put away on this Irish Christmas bonanza.
But I was okay with it, because through this process I'd learned something invaluable. You see it's not about the Irish turkey, the stuffing, Butler's chocolates or even the succulent Irish sausages! It's the memories that these items trigger.
So as I sat down to my Irish breaky on the December 25, I was transported back to a crisp winter's morning on Grafton Street, gazing at my reflection in the Brown Thomas Christmas displays, to a childhood swim at subzero temperatures by Dún Laoghaire pier, or an early morning stroll after Mass up to the Hell Fire Club.
So readers, when Christmas morning rolls around and you sit with family in onesies around the fire, spare a thought for those 'Down Under' in their bathers and singlets, the ones that didn't make it home to surprise friends and family.
Keep your fingers crossed that in 2016 they'll get their act together and make it home in time for Christmas.