Monday 5 December 2011

Surviving Christmas abroad....

I have done quite a few Christmases away from home now , some have been awful, some just OK and some have been weird (I am thinking of the one I had in Jerusalem for that one). For me, Christmas is about spending time with family, it is the only time, bar weddings and funerals that the whole family would get together, so no matter what I do here I can't replicate the Christmas we have back home.

Living abroad in a foreign culture takes a lot of compromise, everyday I come across something that I wouldn't compromise on back home or wouldn't think twice about but I decided that Christmas was going to be the exception to the rule. Before we even got married I made it clear that Christmas day is NOT a work day, I have worked on Christmas day a couple of times, it was awful, never again. Of course, some professions have no choice about this but you know that going into the job, for us the 25th doesn't have to be a work day. So, this is what our family does, it is my way of surviving the holiday season....

November - when I start seeing blog posts about Thanksgiving I know it is time to order my turkey. You may think this is odd but the local supermarkets don't sell turkey or whole chickens for that matter. Now, I don't drive so I can't go and pick a turkey up so I order from The Meat Guy and have it set up so that the order arrives on the 22nd of December, in the morning, this gives it time to defrost so that I can cook it on the 24th. My oven isn't big enough to do the turkey and veg at the same time! Another thing I like about the Meat Guy is that they give approx measurements of the turkey so you can check it will fit in your oven. You can also buy turkeys from Hanamasa and Costco and it is worth asking at a decent butcher because they might be able to get one for you.

Late November the stores start stocking Christmas goods so that is the time to start stocking up, I usually buy my Christmas pudding(s) from Seijo Ishii and in the past I have got my mincemeat from there too but this year they said they were not stocking it so I got daddy-ebi on the job and he ordered it online, I think from Kenko. It is rumoured that Kaldi have it in stock but I have yet to see any in my local Kaldi. I also look out for cranberry sauce, I prefer the jarred sauce to the canned but have had to use the canned on occasion in the past.

Robertson's Mincemeat Classic

Other places I look in for Christmas foods are Sony Plaza and Yamaya, well more Christmas drinks in Yamaya! We don't bother with a Christmas cake, no one is that fussed about the rich fruit cake that we have back home and I'm sorry, but strawberry cream cake is just wrong! So, we stick to Christmas pud, mince pies and daddy-ebi gets a fancy cake given to him at work on the 24th, more than enough cake for the three of us.

British Style Christmas cake
Japanese Style Christmas Cake!
Usually by the start of December I have most of my Christmas stuff bought, presents going back home are wrapped and sent as are Christmas postcards, packs of cards are rare and expensive here so I do it the Japanese way and send postcards, plus it saves a bundle on postage!

November 30th we get the decorations out so that we can hang the advent stockings. 

December 1st we put up the tree and the other decorations and put on some Christmas music, nice and loud. Of course, every year my mom complains that it is too early but here we are not bombarded with Christmas from every direction like we are back in the UK. 

First few days in December we write a letter to Santa and make the first batch of mince pies, I make my own pastry using my grandmothers recipe. 

I go through the book shelves and find all the Christmas/winter story books and put them in a basket so we can dip in any time. We also set up the nativity set. I bought it in the UK and it came with a story book, we are not a religious family but I do think it is important for Ebi-kun to understand what the real reason of Christmas is all about. I check the TV listing and mark any good films that are on (again it is usually slim pickings) and we see what there is to rent in the DVD store. I also make a list of Christmas crafts/games/activities that we can do and make sure that we have what we need to do them.

We usually have some kind of party or gathering early in the month with the playgroup because there are always families leaving for the holidays. The third Saturday of the month we go and see the ice candles and the 23rd is a national holiday so we plan something special that day with friends. Daddy-ebi always has to work on the 24th so I cook the turkey, drink sherry and sing along to Christmas songs and prepare all the veg for the next day. 

The veg - I usually do roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes and red carrots (kintoki ninjin), the carrots are usually only available around the new years period and they are the closest thing I have found to parsnip. In the past I have done brussels sprouts if I can find them and carrots, broccoli and corn.

First thing in the morning here is late night in the UK so Ebi-kun usually opens a couple of presents whilst we do a video chat with nana and papie and then we hook up again the next day and do it in reverse! The 26th is a work day for daddy-ebi and so we video chat with nana and my best mate Di. Nana usually has half the family round so we get to see everyone, say our thanks yous and have a catch up. It is like being at a party but stuck to your chair, you can't intermingle, just have to wait until someone comes over to chat, usually one person finishes and passes us over to someone else.

So, that is it, that is how I survive the holidays over here, it takes some extra planning but I don't have to worry about being trampled when I go shopping! My mad rush to get everything done is usually finished by the start of December, so I can sit back and relax, spend time making special gifts for my nearest and dearest. I no longer dread the holidays, I embrace them. If you are away from home, how do you do it? Please share any tips whether it be cooking, shopping or just surviving in general.


  1. The Japanese cake is so pretty. It looks very summery though. Have a lovey Christmas :)

  2. For me the main difference between Christmas here and there is how much more organised I have to be here. There- want mince pies? Pop into the bakery. Here I start by making the fruit mince. ;P We have also decided on some traditions for our family that are neither what I grew up with nor what K did but by continuing them each year they become a part of our Christmas. This includes taking hot chocolate and dried persimmon to the park to see the Christmas lights and hanging all the stockings together Christmas Eve. I love the way your Christmas is a three day affair talking to all those you love. :)

  3. Heather - I agree, I don't think I have ever been this organised at Christmas! and starting your own traditions is important too, and you make your own mincemeat, that is impressive!


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