I've had Christmases abroad but until we moved to Bosnia I had never spent a Christmas in a country which doesn't really celebrate Christmas*. Christmas Day is a normal working day here and I am finding it odd. I hadn't realised how ingrained into my psyche Christmas is and to be somewhere where Christmas doesn't really feature is unsettling. There aren't really any cheesy Christmas movies on TV. That special sort of Christmas smell, the gingery, cinammony, fir tree smell is lacking. I'm missing Christmas carols - hell, I'm even missing Slade and Band Aid.
I'm finding this most difficult around the boys. We may live in Bosnia, but they are English and Christmas is a huge part of their culture. They need to grow up learning about the nativity, getting excited about presents, enjoying the build up, the parties, the preparation and the anticipation of it all. There are no Christmas activities at their nursery, no nativity play, no shepherd's in tea towels, no Mary forgetting her lines and dropping Baby Jesus.
So we're trying to do it alone. They have advent calenders which are eagerly opened every morning. We put up a tree at the weekend, complete with decorated baubles and gaudy lights (note to self: never, ever trust the husband to buy the Christmas lights again - he may have had instructions for simple white ones that don't do all that flashing, but he disregarded it completely and with an evident enjoyment, before conceding somewhat later that night that all the flashing is giving him a headache). We're on a baking binge to try and get that special Christmas smell going throughout the house; this afternoons efforts will be gingerbread men, (but without the golden syrup, hoping honey will prove to be an adequate substitute). Tinsel is all over the place. I've got the radio tuned in to British radio stations to get carols and Christmas songs into their consciousness. We talk a bit about Baby Jesus's birthday, but to be honest they are more interested in Father Christmas.
We had Christmas in Bosnia last year, and loved it, but this year we are driving to Switzerland for the festive season. I'm very much looking forward to it. We will be seeing lots of family, eating food that we don't normally have access to and most importantly for me, having a whole country also engaging in Christmas festivities. I'm quite tired of doing all the Christmas atmosphere myself.
Having been the outsider for a few years, the one trying to celebrate a festival which no one else is really, I have far more empathy for those who are also find themselves in a minority. It is often wonderful, and the experience that we are having of living in a different culture are always fascinating, but sometimes, it is nice to be in sync with the rest of the country.
*this being Bosnia, obviously it is complicated. The Catholic Bosnian Croats celebrate Christmas, but they are concentrated in the south and west of the country. Tuzla is in the Northeast and although there are a some Croats here, it is predominantly Muslim and Serb. The Muslims celebrated Bajram earlier this month, and the Serbs follow the Orthodox calender, celebrating Christmas on January 7th. It isn't totally unChristmassy here; there are Christmas decorations around, the local supermarket Bingo has some really beautiful wooden ones that I am tempted to buy up for keepsakes and there are lights up in the streets but the sense of momentum towards Christmas so obvious in the UK is absent.
Obviously being in Bosnia we are also missing the panto season. Oh yes we are! This sadly means that we can't sign up for the Great Panto Review 2009 to help raise funds for NACCPO - the National Alliance of Childhood Cancer Parents Organisations who work to support children and young adults with cancer. But I would recommend anyone in the UK to check out the reviews, think about going to see one, and to donate if they can to this small organisation that is entirely dependent upon funds that they raise for its work.