real life

Christmas: When your family is far away

Christmas always conjures up a lot of emotions – for those that are dreading it, those that are fine tuning their quirky traditions and those who are just figuring out how to get through the day.  But what about those who are from away from their families this Christmas?  Writer and blogger Kirsty writes from Qatar

By Kirsty Rice

I was completely unaware I was feeling the way I was, until the tears came.For the past few weeks just about everyone I knew had asked what we were doing for Christmas. I’d cheerfully responded that we were staying in Doha. I’d listed the practicalities of how expensive it is to fly home, the excess baggage carrying presents back and forth, how spectacular the weather is in Doha right now.

We did it last year. We’d spent Christmas morning in our new home, with the advantages of technology Grandparents had watched the presents being unwrapped and joined in with the “what is it, what is it” excitement. Lunch was spent at a hotel and we happily indulged in endless bubbles, mountains of food and chocolate fountains. We decided it was “so much easier” (and so much cheaper) than going home to Australia.

Yesterday I sat with G and a friend in a Doha park, the little travelers and their friends were climbing Frangipani trees and kicking the soccer ball. We were chatting about the lead up to Christmas. It wasn’t until I was asked directly “so how do you feel about spending Christmas Day here” that I had to admit to myself that something had changed in the past few days, the conviction wasn’t there like it had been. The endless bubbles and chocolate fountains weren’t providing the same excitement. My voice had that shaky tone that comes in the preliminary moment to tears when I said “I think I’d like to be home”. As I looked off in to the distance trying to inconspicuously wipe away the tears that were welling, my lovely English friend said in her very English way “yes, sometimes you just need to be with your people”.

Where were my people? The day before my mother had set up a time to Skype. A close family friend along with my sister and brother in law were coming over for dinner and they were all staying the night at our family home. As each of their faces popped up on the screen G and I waved and smiled. Without being told we knew exactly where they’d parked their cars, which dining chairs they sat in and the stories they told. When they talked about dinner we could taste the salt on Mum’s crackling and see the old floral gravy jug making it’s way around the table.

I still have a bedroom at my parents house, it’s contents vary from my 1981 diary which speaks of the travesty of Vicki’s Coombs 13th birthday, to the well loved nostalgic teenage t-shirts. Hanging in the closet are the bridesmaids dresses from the 90’s and underneath them is G’s mini cellar that he’s been adding to over the past 12 years.


It was the end of the night for them when the skype chat began so everyone had had a few drinks. When G asked my brother in law what was in his glass he joked in a bad Scottish accent “it’s your wine brother, we’re making our way through it”,  everyone laughed. When my Dad made his way to the wobbly computer chair, he had that grin. It’s the I’ve had a few beers at bowls/football/golf and I’m trying to look like I haven’t grin. He was having a good night. G went off to check on the travelers while Dad and I kept talking. “How was the writing? Have you spoken to the publisher again?” “Well love, if I win lotto tomorrow I promise I’ll buy the first 100,000 copies”. Only a father can say that and sound like he really means it.

A few months ago a fellow Aussie expat had told me about her family in Melbourne and how they didn’t really quite know what her or her husband did for a living. They’d started 10 years ago with jobs in Singapore that had changed and evolved. She said they never asked for the finer details and she never offered the information. I knew what she meant, it wasn’t said with malice.

I thought back to a few years earlier, in my home town supermarket, standing next to my sister as she told someone that G sold drill bits. I turned to look at her like she was a confused alien. G works in Marketing and Planning for a Natural Gas company, with an Economics degree and a background in software, I was surprised with her career assessment.  My sister and I had giggled hysterically all the way to the car as she shook her head saying “I really thought he sold drill bits?” I said “Why did you think they sent him to Stanford?” she giggled some more and said “I just thought he must have been really good at it!

That’s the thing with “your people”. They might not know exactly what you do, but most of the time they know exactly who you are. That’s how they push your buttons.

This Christmas some of us will suffer through “our people”, watching the same old same old. Our people will frustrate us with their familiarities and personal assessments. It will drive you insane when the hilarious story of getting your skirt caught in your bike chain and having to run home in your knickers is raised yet AGAIN, or the unspoken carrot cutting incident of 2002 when the carrots were meant to be Julienne not Baton and someone told someone else exactly where they could put their carrots before storming out of the house.

Those of us, who cannot be with “our people”, for whatever reason, whether its distance, financial or a painful loss will think of “our people” often during the day. As much as we’ll be making new memories with new people and smiling with children and chocolate fountains we’ll still be thinking of “our people” and wishing we were together.


About the Author: Kirsty Rice is an Australian writer and Blogger currently living in Qatar. After calling 7 countries home over the past 11 years she’s embarrassed to admit she still can’t pack a suitcase properly. Kirsty is currently writing a book about having 4 children in 4 different countries while trying to remember her new telephone number and where she packed the can opener.  You can catch up with her on Twitter here (@shamozal) or her blog 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle.

Are you celebrating far away from your family and loved ones? How are you feeling?