One holiday season many years ago, I woke up on Christmas Day to blazing sun, high humidity, and extreme temperatures. This may be normal if you’re an extremely lazy, unexcited, middle-aged Australian, but for a five year old from England it was a bit of a shock to the system.
My maternal uncle’s family had moved on account of his job to Dubai a few years previously, and as Christmas with them was a bit of a tradition, my parents decided that perhaps a trip to the Middle East was a welcome break from the norm. So we escaped the relentless drizzle, Arctic climate, and decoration overload that is Britain during December and instead braved the six hour flight over to Jumeirah (ironically, I was convinced we were going to Jerusalem).
Obviously my recollection of this event has become fairly hazy with the passing of time, but a few things have stuck with me – starting with jet lag. Aged five – and therefore entirely unaware of the beauty of a lie in – I probably wasn’t getting enough sleep anyway, and the four hour time difference hit harder than expected. After constant trips to our parents’ bedroom we were finally able to sit up and watch Babar the Elephant episodes, until being carried up to bed. This only added to the disorientation of spending the lead up to Christmas stealing slightly-melted chocolates off the tree, dressed in shorts and vests.
As Christmas Eve approached the activities became even more distanced from traditional holiday ventures; camel rides; market shopping; desert sand surfing (a fancy way of saying “my cousins, sister and I threw ourselves down some dunes”) etc. However, the growing excitement was there as always, no matter how bizarre our surroundings sometimes felt. In fact, a few things were constant, and placed Christmas exactly where I think it needs to be: within, and surrounded by, family. We were reassured that yes, Santa did know where Dubai was, and no, he wouldn’t mistakenly visit our home in England instead. We laid carrots out for the reindeer, mince pie and sherry for Santa, and watched traditional Christmas movies (albeit on VCR).
Christmas morning was bright and cheerful, and surprisingly full of presents (these were obviously pre-recession days, before Monarch flights with 10kg bag allowances). Whilst the kids ran round the house with new toys, the adults cooked up a traditional Christmas lunch: if you had replaced the sun with dull rain I would’ve thought we’d never left Hampshire. However, the post-lunch activity of choice was swimming in the local outdoor pool. Whilst we didn’t question it, looking back on it now – and considering how I’d feel if that’s what I were to do this December 25th – it seems very peculiar.
But if that one strange Christmas made me realise anything, it was that Christmas is what you make of it. I wouldn’t choose to travel on Christmas day now (at least nowhere requiring a plane) but ultimately it doesn’t matter where you are on the big day, and, as much of a cliché as it sounds, it really is about being with people you love.
Plus I went back to school in January with a tan.