On the Road

Christmas Sucks for Expats

The slowest day of the year.

One Christmas, a few years ago, I sat opposite Bobby in a bar in Rio de Janeiro and watched him slurp up his chicken – his teeth had fallen out years ago due to his 5 grams of cocaine a day habit. He was always a mile a minute, full of chemical self-confidence and acting like he was on top of the world. Today, however, he seemed a little down.

‘I’ve been here 20 years now and it’s okay. I don’t miss Canada. It’s just Sundays and Christmas that get to me.’

Ask any expat – even if they’re living in the sun somewhere, happily married and living in the lap of Paradise – when Christmas rolls around there’s this empty feeling. Even if they couldn’t care less about the pagan roots of a religion that wiped out cultures like a virus, even if they detest the insane worship of consumerism that Christmas represents – it’s still the longest day of the year.

Travelers often laugh at the idea of a home. Desperate to escape the cultural and financial traps of where they come from, they teach themselves to hate their roots, as keen to quit their home country as they were to leave the house of their parents. But somewhere inside there’s a longing, a need to belong somewhere and when everyone else is playing happy families in front of the tree, there’s no way to hide it.

A biologist was once asked how birds know which way to fly when it’s time to migrate. He thought for a moment and said:

‘They fly in the direction of diminishing homesickness.’

Perhaps all of us follow that unconscious call on some level, picking our path through the caprices life throws at us.

Or else we deny it beneath a veneer of cynicism, compulsive sexual behaviour or 5 grams of coke a day.

Either way, on the 25th of December, for expats like Bobby, the minutes can’t pass quickly enough.