Have yourself a merry expat Christmas…


So it’s that time of the year again. I am sitting in my kitchen looking after some frozen lobster tails boiling away before ending in my Christmas Eve pasta-with-lobster-and-cherry-tomatoes recipe I’ve found this morning on the Internet. (It was on an Italian website but this one looks pretty similar, in case you are desperately looking for some last minute fix).

Christmas was probably my favorite childhood moment but for some obvious reasons since I’ve become in charge of organizing it part of the magic is gone. For the second year in a row this will be a 100% expat eve: no extended family, just us and a lot of Skype calls to hear about the gigantic meals the Italian relatives are about to indulge in. Not that I mind it. The last Xmas home was a frantic week running around as an headless chicken to be sure to have that very last coffee or tea or drink with long lost friends and family I never have the opportunity to see during the rest of the year. Everything seasoned with too much calories and a disastrous trip back, stranded in Rome airport for a whole day waiting for some mysterious technical issue to be fixed.

So, staying home and having a Xmas with no clear tradition (there’s the pasta, right. And I dutifully bought a Panettone for tomorrow’s breakfast but beside this, not much else) is fine. But when a friend sent me a few days ago this link to yet another interesting Guardian’s piece, I stared at it wondering if homesickness really is something we can’t dispose of.

I always thought in my expat years that homesickness was something you couldn’t avoid in some specific situations:

– when you first move away from home and you feel a little lost

– when you live in a place so different in terms of culture from the one you were brought up in that you can’t fit in.

– when something bad happens and, instinctively, you feel like you need “home”

What happens after a while, though, is that you don’t know anymore what “home” is. For instance, if a tsunami hit my family leaving me the only survivor (tragic example, but I have recently watched the film), I am not sure where I would go back to.

When I go to Rome I have my moments of sudden weakness and I am mesmerized by the yellow, warm sunlight and some smells and some foods and, yes, the thrill of talking to someone and knowing that person will understand exactly what I mean, in all the nuances and hints and implications. I enjoy not being lost in translation when I am home. But that’s it.

So Skype works well for me: I get to see those I love without being cornered by insidious questions about my expat life and an infinite dinner.

What about you? What’s your expat Xmas like? Which traditions did you take with you and which others were you happy to let go of?

Have a fantastic Xmas and may it be light, fun, warm and crazy:)


  1. Well, I do miss Christmas lunch with 17 other people and too much (good) food. Above all, I miss my mother’s tortellini, which are something not to be believed. So I replicate what I can with my Jewish family, my lone Israeli friend and whaver strays I can muster. But nobody wants to sit at the tabe for 6 hours. Plus, it’s 26 degrees outside. No matter, I am still having chicken soup, mashed potatoes and Pandoro! And a tree. But I refuse to go back to Italy for Christmas. Too bloody cold. I guess I have shed even the expat skin and fully become an Angeleno. Lobster tails sound fab!

    1. Didn’t you have to take an holiday from the internet?!:))))
      I am more than envious of your angeleno xmas, it would suit me perfectly. Plus, there may be would be better lobsters than my frozen-from-the-carabbeans ones. Merry Xmas to you, again!

  2. I found myself hosting the Christmas eve family gathering… My partner’s mother lives here in Mumbai, his brother, wife and son are in from Dubai. We have a friend staying with us from Singapore who just arrived from Nairobi and a young American friend popped home to drop off of baked goodies plus indulge in a sociable drink with the appetizers. I looked around the room and realized in just that small group of 8 people we had 6 nationalities and 4 religious backgrounds. All united by eating, drinking, making merry and good cheer!

    It may not be the ‘home’ of snowy white Winnipeg and I definitely do miss family and friends there, however after a decade + of not being in Canada, ‘home’ is where I’m lucky enough to build an interesting life more or less on my own terms with a partner who ‘gets’ much of who I am even if we grew up in different parts of the world. 🙂

    Merry Xmas and Happy Ho Ho!

  3. Dear Ms Ottominuti, first I wish you and your family a Merry Xmas and a very healty one, ’cause staying clear from fatty Italian meals is only good for you!
    Can I suggest? try lobster spaghetti without the cherry tomatoes: if you are tasting wine, tomatoes is no good. It is acid, and biases the wine taste. Personal opinion!

  4. Merry Christmas! We still head home, but I can relate to the mad rush. I think I do Christmas more for my parents and siblings – it is my reaction to them saying I am too far away. I do love the traditions though – but if it was only me? I don’t think I would follow many of them…

  5. dear ottominuti, living in shanghai doesn’t help to celebrate a proper christmas the way we mean it in italy. but it makes it beautifully different.
    I had a christmas party with all my chinese, dutch, german, australian and indian friends. everybody brought some food, typical from their hometown. it was just wonderful.
    sure I missed my relatives and friends in italy, but this is the 5th year away (not to count the other 4 in holland) and I’m now used to celebrate christmas in a different way: just enjoying the warm company of my friends and family here.
    and home? home is where your family is.
    we are in a warm place now, celebrating our christmas dinner on the beach, with a slice of pandoro bauli, that we were lucky enogh to buy in a shop in SH.
    have a lovely holiday!

  6. Really loved your post, I am an expat from England and living in Turkey. This year was my first year having Christmas in Turkey as usually I fly back home, however I found going back for the festive season far too tiring for a weeks visit. It was only my and my husband, but some how I managed to enjoy my first Christmas in another country, I think maybe because the abnormal is now considered normal to me. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year xx

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