/Away from home on the holidays
When Katharine Hagerman said she'd cook a turkey dinner for her husband's family in Cairo Egypt her inlaws brought home a live turkey to raise because it will be better quality than what is found in the supermarket. /Submitted photo

Away from home on the holidays

By Sue Tiffin

Published Dec. 19 2017

Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays

‘Cause no matter how far away you roam

When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze

For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.

Mikaela Gordon spent her first Christmas away from home on the other side of the world from snow and holiday tradition and family in Minden. Instead she and friend Jessica Bishop were on Fraser Island Australia’s largest sand island on the south end of the Great Barrier Reef riding four-by-fours.

“We managed to climb up to a cliff that had cellphone service and called our families back home to wish them a Merry Christmas” said Gordon.

That was 2015 and Gordon who lives in Newman a remote mining community in Western Australia has different plans this year. Instead she plans to head south away from the desert to Bunbury south of Perth to be with a friend. They’ll start the day with breakfast and then celebrate the holiday like most of her fellow Australians many who are celebrating the end of the school year – with a barbecue. The rest of the day will be spent alternating between her friend’s backyard pool and the beach.

“I’m huge on Christmas but here in the desert trying to wrap my brain around it being 40 degrees at Christmas is really hard” she said.

But she definitely plans to take some time away from the sun to Skype home to her parents sisters and extended family.

“To include my family back in Minden is very important to me” she said. “We have very big traditions from this time of the year so it’s always a hard time to be away from them.”

Gordon who works as a nanny has brought some of the Christmas traditions she’s learned in Canada to Australia teaching the kids Christmas songs and doing Christmas baking.

“We have made Nanaimo bars which were a hit” she said. “Except they have to be kept in the freezer or they melt before they get to your mouth. Going for a snowshoe certainly won’t be happening this year.”

Noelle Russell who has lived on the west coast of Australia in a suburb of Perth for the past five months plans to surf near Melbourne first thing Christmas morning this year and get in a long phone call “and a lot of tears from my mom” back in Gelert.

She left her tacky Christmas sweater at the airport because of its weight but did bring some Wintergreen maple syrup to pour on Christmas morning pancakes. Much like Gordon barbecue will likely be on the menu.

“Basically at Christmas since it’s 45 degrees it’s beach and barbecues all around which we can’t do in Canada or we will freeze” she said. “Most families wake up and head straight to the beach.”

Local author Jan Cox who vacations in Arizona with husband Wayne is counting down the days to Christmas in the desert.

When not in Haliburton Cox lives in Mesa a gated community and though she flies home to celebrate Christmas in Ontario that hasn’t stopped her from bringing some Christmas to her front yard. A lit nativity scene framed by palm trees sits among the grass and stones.

“It is much easier to decorate here than a place filled with snow” said Cox. “I remember one year our deer [decorations] on our porch were fully submerged in snow.”

Cox said a Santa parade occurs there with decorated golf carts moving through the community and the recreation centre is decorated too. Neighbours have noted the spirit the Coxes bring to the community with their festive front yard.

“It is beautiful” she said. “We have had many comments about the true meaning of Christmas being shown in our yard.”

In England for the past 17 years with his family Haliburton native Blake Jackson who lives in Staffordshire Moorlands about 10 miles outside of Stoke-on-Trent said his family goes out to buy a real tree.

“I can’t cut down my own tree but will never have a fake one” he said.

Leading up to Christmas his family attends children’s school Christmas plays – his kids go to Christingle service at their Church of England school – and tries to get to the German Christmas market in Manchester or Birmingham. On Christmas Eve they cook and eat a tourtière leave a mince pie and milk for Santa and reindeer food outside.

“Santa is also left a ‘magic key’ to get in as we don’t have a chimney” he said.

The Christmas meal includes turkey beef chipolatas (sausages) wrapped in bacon roast potatoes mashed potatoes sprouts carrots stuffing gravy cranberries and swede or turnip.

But Jackson touches base with home too trying to get a Skype session in with family in Texas Whitby and Cambridge.

In Cairo Egypt Katharine Hagerman said she’s been watching Christmas movies and listening to Christmas music with her husband Hani Morsi and their baby boy Zayn this month to “get in the spirit.”

“Hani’s family doesn’t traditionally celebrate Christmas they are Muslim” she said. “What is interesting here is that Egypt has a long history of recognizing all of the major holidays from Judaism Christianity and Islam. So everyone has all of these major days as public holidays and socially has an awareness of their neighbours. For example Hani would visit friends who were celebrating Christmas to wish them a Merry Christmas…The other interesting thing is that there are Coptic Catholic and Protestant Christians here. The Coptic Christians celebrate on Jan. 7 while the others celebrate on Dec. 25.”

Hagerman has spent the last two winters in Cairo and the summers in Haliburton which she called “an excellent weather optimization system.”

“The greater Cairo area has a population of about 22 million people so it has been quite an adjustment for this West Guilfordite” she said. “Same goes for Hani when he spends his summers on Cranberry Lake.”

Hani’s family is welcoming and excited to celebrate Christmas with Katharine and her family this year who share a house with them.

“We got a potted Christmas tree which we’ll later plant in the garden one of the benefits of a warmer Christmas climate” she said.

To the delight of Katharine’s family back home Hani’s parents brought home a live turkey a few weeks ago that will be raised until Christmas dinner on the 25th.

“Turkeys aren’t as common here as in Canada so the supermarket ones are hard to come by and not always good quality” said Hagerman. “This way we know it is free range.”

Christmas Day in Cairo will be relaxed but Hagerman said they’ll have stockings Christmas baking and before leaving Haliburton last month her family filled half a suitcase with Christmas gifts. Presents were left by Hagerman with her family and so a present exchange will occur over Skype.

“I’ll use my Mom’s recipes for baking and dinner to try and make it taste like home but the fun part is that this is also an opportunity for us to experiment with creating our own traditions as a new family so we look forward to seeing how it plays out” she said. “Maybe a Christmas day swim is in order … I only wish we’d had more room in our luggage for Bailey’s from duty free. Then we could have brought the Christmas morning Bailey’s and coffee tradition along.”

Technology has given families the opportunities to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices in real-time over the distance but for many residents outside of Haliburton and away from Canada during the holiday a Skype session can’t completely fill the void of being away from home.

“I really miss the Christmas spirit you don’t feel it as much here” said Gordon. “Not everyone puts up lights trees are artificial and the food just isn’t the same. I miss curling up by the fire with a book and listening to Christmas carols play as the snow comes down outside.”

Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays

‘Cause no matter how far away you roam

If you want to be happy in a million ways

For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home