Guest Post: Celebrating Christmas in a Country Where Christmas Comes Late

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If you aren’t already familiar with Brooke’s work over at WhyGo Australia and Brooke vs. the World, what have you been doing!? Between the two blogs Brooke is putting out more content than you can shake a stick at, and she’s seen enough countries to make even the most seasoned nomad feel just a little jealous.

A few years back Brooke and I shared a mutual friend as she worked with my mate Brodie during her teaching stint in the Ukraine. I’d met Brodie back in 2007-08 when we both worked in Korea, and there are plenty of tales of his drunken Canadian shenanigans that I’ll share some other time.

But as another part of my little series on celebrating Christmas overseas – Brooke tells us a little about her experiences celebrating Christmas in the Ukraine.

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With the onset of the holiday season, there has been a slew of posts in the travel blogging community talking about missing home.  I’m with them.  I often don’t feel homesick on the road until the big holidays come up – Thanksgiving and Christmas – when I would normally be surrounded by more family than I can possibly handle.  Funny how that works, eh?  When I’m home, my family drives me a bit nuts, but when I’m gone, I just want to be home.

My first Christmas away from home took place in 2008 when I was teaching English in Ukraine.  I didn’t know what to expect, and I hadn’t actually planned ahead that far in the future.  It turns out that in Ukraine, Christmas comes late… like 2 weeks late.  What?!  Yep, being a largely Russian Orthodox group of people, they celebrate on the Julian calendar.  That means they celebrate Christmas on January 6th.

Shock, horror!

Instead of being snuggled up at home with friends and family on December 25th, I actually had to prepare lesson plans and head over to the classroom for an evening with language students.  In short, it was not a Christmas like I would have preferred; there should have been food and drink… and presents… and all should have taken place in a heated home instead of a freezing school building.

I must say that it is already difficult to get into the holiday spirit when you’re not at home with family, and then to be confronted with the sad fact that not even the same day of the year will get the respect it deserves makes it worse.  I felt a bit depressed as even the time difference made it hard to contact loved ones in America.  I cursed Ukraine and its silly backwards holiday celebrating – New Years before Christmas, really?!

So, I did what any sad, foreign girl would do on Christmas Day in a country where it wasn’t yet to be:  I went to class buzzed.

Ok, so I’m not an alcoholic.  I decided to head to church with my flatmate in the afternoon who had started going to a place targeted to expats.  I’m not a church-goer, but it was either that or stay at home by myself! After the service, we headed back to the pastor’s apartment for a meal, which involved a glass or two of wine.  As warm and happy as that wine and meal made me, Christmas just did not feel like Christmas.

I had lessons to teach and pronunciation to correct.  I had sentence structure to instruct, and I had to run the whole show.

But, wait… what’s that?

A card from one of my Ukrainian students wishing me a Merry Christmas was presented before I left that evening.  It was probably the best hand-written message I could have ever received, and on my Christmas no less.  I was touched.

It was just another lesson I had to learn in my travelling life.  Celebrating the holidays away from home will never be the same, but they do come with their own experiences that make them unique and worthwhile.  I just have to remember that fact when December 25th rolls around this year, too.

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3 comments

  1. I remember a similar feeling on my first Christmas Day in Japan. I was living in a shared house and ran downstairs on Christmas morning full of excitement…everyone was at work!

    In the end I settled for going to the gym and dinner in an English pub in the evening. Not bad, but an odd feeling either way!

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