The more the merrier: Winter Holidays, #TrailingSpouseStories

Welcome to the December #TrailingSpouseStories blog crawl!

This December, we talk about the much anticipated and somehow dreaded, ultra sentimental Christmas holidays. How were the Christmas holidays outside your home country? How is it similar and different? What did you enjoy most spending Christmas abroad?
Find out how we spend our holidays and how it feels to spend it in different corners of the globe, so don’t forget to read more stories of fellow trailing spouses at the end of this blogpost.

I left home about 14 years ago and from then on I’ve experienced winter holidays in a number of countries. Of course, the traditions can be quite different to what you’re used to, but, I think, it’s less about that and more about your own perception, your expectations and willingness to love something new. I won’t go much into details of the celebrations, you can simply read up on that online, but I’d rather try to pin point what feelings these holidays evoked and what they meant to me.

Ukraine

I grew up in Ukraine, so the holiday season for me started with the New Year. I guess, it is true for most former USSR countries that it is the most anticipated and celebrated holiday of the year. It might have been seen as a replacement of Christmas at some point, when the government tried to take religion out of the equation.

It probably feels a bit like what Christmas feels to some of you – fur tree decorating, pre-holiday rush to stock up on presents and cook all the favourite dishes, lots of fireworks, old holiday movies and cartoons, and, kids’ most anticipated event, presents found in the morning. They’re brought by Ded Moroz at night, of course. The New Year’s celebration is followed by several state days off slowly turning into the Christmas celebration.

We celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January. It’s a totally family affair. You’d stay at home or go to visit your relatives. A lot of people also go to church, there’s a night mass on Christmas eve and a service on the Christmas day itself. It’s not so loud and vibrant as the New Years, but it has a quieter, cosier feel for me. Snow falling, candles burning, joy and peace..

UK

I came to London not as a TrailingSpouse, but as a student, however, I thought I’d include this country as well. It was my first experience of living abroad and the 7 years I spent there shaped my outlook on life quite a lot. I guess, it made it easier for me to set out on a journey with my husband later on.

Out of all those years, I stayed in London for holidays only twice. Somehow, I felt really sad there around this time. Of course, one of the biggest reasons is missing your family, but there’s more to it. Pre-Christmas time is fun – Oxford and Regent street lights are coming up, all the shops with Christmas window displays, festive music playing all around, you feel magic’s in the air. But then Christmas comes. Let me tell you, if you don’t celebrate it with everyone else around, the city just seems extremely quiet to you. Quiet and deserted. Oh, and if you forgot to stock up on food – your loss, go on a diet.

Christmas was ok, but the lowest point of the holiday season would be a New Year. Yes, it is also celebrated in UK, but on a totally different level. There’re parties and then there’s ‘an up to ten days state holiday’, feels different, I’m sure you’d agree.

And last but not least – no snow. I can’t say it snows a lot every winter in Ukraine, but there’s definitely more snow there than in London, even though you’d always hear a song about a ‘white Christmas’. This was also something to get used to.

Germany

Hamburg was the first destination where we moved to as a couple. Moving to another country is definitely much easier when you’re not on your own, especially if it’s not your first move. You learn how to adapt and appreciate the differences.

This was the time to experience and fall in love with Weinachtsmarkt! I think there’s something special about Christmas markets – no matter who you are and whether you celebrate this holiday or not, you would feel completely enveloped in a warm and festive atmosphere. For me Christmas in Germany is Gluhwein out of a mug on a snowy street and hot sugary nuts warming your hands.

During our years there we got used to the quiet days following Christmas (in the end we had a family of our own to keep each other company). The New Year is celebrated with a lot of fireworks there (although all the festivities are gone by the next morning and even all the christmas trees are thrown out). Last but not least – it snows :)

Our oldest daughter was born in Hamburg. When it was her second Christmas (and she was able to take down tree decorations) we came up with a childproof idea. Now winter holidays started to fill even better, seeing our child decorating our own Christmas tree :)

China

We moved to Shanghai in February. Yes, just before the Chinese New Year. Whoever didn’t experience this celebration in China – it’s a bit hard to explain just how loud it is. I think our daughter (1 year and 4 months at that time) was quite shocked by constant noise after spending the beginning of her life in a quiet Hamburg suburb. This is a bit off topic here so I won’t go into describing this holiday much, I just have to say – it’s fascinating :)

What I love about Chinese, they decided that it would be fun to have some more holidays – Christmas? Why not! New Year? Sure! Spring Festival (Chinese New Year)? Well, this is a must, of course. Basically, you spend the whole winter just smoothly transitioning from one holiday to another. All shopping malls would be decorated for Christmas from November, then they would gradually add some Happy New Year slogans, which would be taken down only to be replaced with cherry blossoms, red lanterns and red banners with Spring Festival wishes. I’m all up for that :)

When we lived there I had my husband, my daughter, my parents and my sister around, so I wasn’t homesick at the least. We decorated our own tree and celebrated in our own style as well, making traditional dishes and going to a Russian Christmas service. We also went out for a Catholic Christmas dinner at our friends’ place. You can say, we embraced it all Chinese style – the more the merrier.

We even had some snow (I tried really hard to catch it on camera).

Russia

I never lived in Moscow before and my husband, although originally from there, only visited it during holidays since he was 12. Nevertheless, it was much easier for us to feel at home there. Our second daughter was born in Moscow, so it made our family bigger and fuller. The holiday season was everything we liked – massive New Year celebrations, favourite TV program with movies and cartoons, favourite food, long state holidays and snow. Lots of it :)

     

Czech Republic

The coming up winter season will be our first in Pardubice. So far I haven’t felt lonely or isolated here – I’ve got my family with me and this is what counts. Transition to a new country was rather smooth (I’d have to say that it is in the end much easier for me to learn Czech than Chinese). I like the city and the people. And I’m really excited about local Christmas market. So, bring on Christmas lights and gluhwein! Some snow would also be highly appreciated.

Read more about fellow #TrailingSpouseStories at:

Didi’s story on D for Delicious on how Christmas abroad start out tearful, but after some time, it turns tearless
Yuliya’s story on Tiny Expats on their journey and experience of winter holidays in 6 countries along the way.
Abigail’s story on Cuddles & Crumbs on a look back on what we have been doing on Christmas and slowly working on our family traditions.
Tala’s story on Tala Ocampo on how the Ocampo’s spent their first Christmas abroad in Colombo, Sri Lanka celebrating not only Christ’s birth but also the birth of their daughter Luna.
Marie’s story on laughlovepractive on how times change, Christmas celebrations change. But one thing keeps it the same.
Glendale’s story on G’s Kandy Krush on how she is celebrating my first Christmas in Sri Lanka, where she resides with her husband and 2 sons.
Third’s story on Pinoy in America on how Pinoys have successfully brought the Philippines’ best-loved Christmas customs and traditions to America.
Marc’s story on Fatherland, explaining how Christmas is different this year compared to past Christmases.
Jenny’s story on My Mommyology on how Christmas in Manila or in the US is different every year with the kids. Or is it the same?”
Kristine’s story on Tala Ocampo where Mac shares her reflections with Tala on spending Christmas away from home for a total of 15 years.

17 comments

  1. Gosh! Christmas around the world! Literally!

    I can’t imagine moving to so many countries. But I think it is a great way to experience the world!

    I’ve always wanted to try Gluhwein. There’s a Christkindl market in town (Texas is home to many German immigrants) and my husband and I are so curious. How does it taste like? One of these days we will head over to satisfy our curious palates.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We didn’t particularly plan to move so many times, but it worked out pretty well, I think :)
      Gluhwein is like mulled wine, red wine boiled with spices and fruits. They serve it hot and it literally warms you up from inside, especially nice when it’s cold outside :) we tried it in Austria first (went there as exchange students) and later liked to have it in Germany. Now it’s like a part of Christmas celebration for me :) I would definitely recommend it for you at least to try it!

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  2. This was a really good read.. It made me feel as if I was experiencing those memories with you. Hopefully I’ll be able to spend the holidays around the world someday.. The pictures were a plus, great job.

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  3. […] I haven’t seen many Christmas Markets, but out of what I’ve seen, I really love how they do it in Germany! All those wurstchen, sauerkraut, gluhwein – sounds really cosy and smells divine! Our older daughter was born in Hamburg and got to experience local Christmas markets twice (although, during the first one she was still laying down in a stroller, while the parents indulged in all the treats on offer). We still have some photos and videos of her riding on a carousel and walking around knee deep in snow with her daddy (yes, we were really lucky with white snowy winters there). Although, she doesn’t even remember living in Germany, if asked where she’s from, she says that she’s from Hamburg – here’s a case of third culture kid identity for you :) You can read more about the way we celebrated winter holidays in different countries and find more photos in this post. […]

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