An Orphan’s Christmas

Walking Christmas tree
You're never really alone at Christmas. Photo by MonkeyMyshkin on Flickr

When I made plans for my first solo trip abroad, everyone asked me the same question:

“But you’re coming home for Christmas, right?”

They asked me a bunch of other stuff too, like “How can you afford this” and “What if you don’t find a job” but the thing that really blew people’s minds was the fact that I wasn’t coming home for Christmas.

I thought it made me strong, somehow, being away for Christmas.

It doesn’t. It makes you miss your family and your traditions.

Worst of all, with every Christmas away, I find that I value the holiday less and less. It is in danger of becoming just another day on the calendar, which is why I am anxious to get back for a family Christmas in 2012.

But for my first Christmas abroad, I wasn’t jaded yet. It was Christmas and I planned to celebrate it accordingly, with four other American expats in London.

We called it ‘An Orphan’s Christmas.’

We were big on the self-pity.

The Preparations

Even though we knew Christmas was coming well before December 25th, we left the preparations until Christmas Eve. The one common factor in all Christmas traditions is food, so that’s what we focused on.

Actually, that’s a lie.

We focused on wine.

Looking back, I don’t know what came over us. We purchased wine as if we were preparing to move into a bomb shelter. It is my recollection that we came back from Sainsbury’s with 27 bottles.

Appropriate wines uberculture
These would have been wildly appropriate for us in London. Photo by uberculture, Flickr

And then there was the food.

Mince pies. Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Cheese and crackers. Pudding.

I don’t even remember what else – gee, I wonder why – but I fell gleefully into a gluttonous food coma that persisted for the next several days.

The Eve

Two of the girls, Brooke and Amanda, shared a comfortable flat in Chelsea. It was comfortable for our Christmas, anyway. Probably not so much for them because the main condition of being able to afford the flat was that it had one bedroom and they had to share a double bed for six months.

But on Christmas, it was perfect. We walked down to the Thames in the dark and freezing cold and got jazzed because we were really experiencing life in London.

I’m pretty sure we brought a bottle of wine in a paper bag, which added to the experience.

Thames 2003
Soaking up the Christmas spirit with Brooke and Paige. Embrace the red-eye, readers.

The Day

We slept on piles of blankets on the floor, curled near each other for warmth. I’m not sure if anyone even got to the bed.

The great thing about celebrating Christmas in a foreign, yet English-speaking country is that chances are good you’ll see some Christmas movies on TV.

Not like in Korea, where choices included The Corpse Bride and Iron Man. Which, I do admit, are exponentially better than last year’s selection of Alien vs. Predator.

Sorry. Got off track there.

So that’s what we did. Made some mimosas and watched whatever movies came on TV.

The day went something like this:

A Tigger Movie


Some Like It Hot

The movie-viewing experience was enhanced because Brooke & Amanda’s apartment had two fold-out velvet cinema chairs in the living room. We rotated between the chairs and the blanket piles until the the Queen’s Christmas message came on.

It was on every channel, so we watched it.

It started like this (exactly like this, because the internet has all the answers):

“I know that most of you will be celebrating Christmas at home in the company of your families and friends, but I know that some of you will not be so lucky.”

Whoa. It was like she was speaking directly to us.

She wasn’t, of course. She went on to talk about the men and women of the Armed Forces who were doing a much more honorable thing than plowing through 27 bottles of wine and eating mince pies for breakfast.

But still. It hit close to home.

We started talking about our families and Christmas traditions, which is when we realized something.

Among the five of us, the three primary Christmas traditions included the following:

1) Eating ourselves into a food coma.

2) Watching movies in our pajamas.

3) Drinking wine to pass the time.

It seems that, on the surface, an Orphan’s Christmas isn’t so different after all. Humbled by our discovery, we ducked into different corners of the room to call our families.

When we reconvened, it was confirmed. In the States, our families were working their way through the turkey, watching A Christmas Story, or hooking into the mulled wine.

Suddenly, the Atlantic Ocean seemed just a little bit smaller.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!


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