Approximately 364 days ago, we booked our Christmas 2017 trip home to England, using a scattering of points that we’d managed to accumulate and a payment to Cathay Pacific for approximately three trillion dollars. Given a couple more years, we could possibly single-handedly save the company from its current financial predicament.
We paid this eye-watering amount of money because that is what it costs to transport a family of six 9,606km to the bosom of its extended family. We paid because we thought it would be lovely for our offspring to enjoy time with the grandparents that they never normally get to see. We paid because we thought it would be nice, despite the 12-hour flight, the jet-lag, the dank English motorways and the weeks and weeks of cold-weather packing, to celebrate the festive season with our nearest and dearest.
Except we won’t be doing that. Because shortly after coughing up the majority of our savings to spend 12-hours eating re-heated chicken and pasta with our knees around our necks, my parents informed us they won’t be spending Christmas with us after all, because they will be spending the festive season at my brother’s fancy new country pile instead.
Apparently the lure of rural Gloucestershire, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and a Boxing Day of pheasant shooting was more attractive than spending it in a creaky, leaky cottage with their Hong Kong grandchildren. And as the invitation has already been issued to my sister-in-law’s side of the family, there is apparently no room for us at the fancy country pile, or even at the (village) inn. “I thought we emailed you?” my brother ponders vaguely.
Sadly we can’t even rustle up a grandparent from my husband’s side of the family as they will be on a Caribbean cruise (to be fair they did warn up about this before we shelled out on our air tickets).
And so we will be travelling halfway around the world to spend Christmas – on our own. So kind of a bit like being in Hong Kong, but wetter and colder and with no friends.
“Oh well,” commiserates my mother over the phone. “Maybe we could squeeze you in sometime before New Year?”
“Well what about New Year itself?” I ask.
“Oh sorry darling, we always spend New Year’s Eve with the Smyths. You know that.”
You couldn’t make an exception, just this once? I wonder.
“Oh no, it’s been in the diary since Easter,” counters my mother. “Pam’s having the sitting room specially decorated, she’s got one of those ‘party planner’ people coming in. Anyway, must dash, it’s yoga this afternoon!”
Dejectedly, I hang up and gaze at the piles of pullovers waiting to be squashed into suitcases.
“Can’t we go skiing?” asks the Teen Child, shoving her way through the front door and knocking over the heap of sweaters. “England’s nice and everything but, you know, it’s kind of a bit boring?” she adds, kicking her school shoes under the dresser.
Oh my god! I scream inside my head. Why do I have such an ungrateful family?
The shopaholic Tween Child is equally unimpressed about the lack of entertainment on offer at this year’s yuletide gathering. “Why don’t we just go to Hawaii instead?” she asks. “There’s not even a Bath & Bodyworks in England, even in London. I’ve had a look online.”
My husband is also unenthusiastic. “I did say we should spend the money on a trip somewhere a bit more exotic,” he helpfully opines as I unsuccessfully try and squeeze lid of the kids’ suitcase shut on fluffy onesies, Uggs, pyjamas, long pants, socks (oh god, the thought of washing, drying and matching all that footwear over the next two weeks is already giving my palpitations) and boots – despite my pleas to the contrary they are all insisting on wearing lightweight flip-flops on the flight, leaving me with the utterly impossible task of finding case space for heavy duty winter shoes.
I give up and pour myself a Baileys. As I shut my eyes and try and blot out the logistics of travel en famille (twelve passports, four HKID cards, six Hong Kong visas, not to mention the seven suitcases we’ll have to blag onto the plane), Mariah Carey floats onto the radio. And cheesy as it is, it makes me smile. It reminds me of all those Christmases past, the ones as a child when I was so thrilled I couldn’t sleep, when as a teenager I claimed to be way too cool to enjoy it all but was secretly oh-so excited on Christmas morning, the year my mother drank so much sherry she put the turkey in the dishwasher instead of the oven and we had to have Chinese take-away, the years in Australia eating BBQs on beaches and in parks, and the year I forgot it was Christmas (a newborn can do that to you) and we had to make do with ham sandwiches and Quality Street. But the point is they were all special times, no matter how much we managed to screw up, or forget things, or burn the dinner.
Christmas is never the perfect occasion the greetings cards would have us believe – I’ve only ever known one white Christmas (and we spent most of it in the car), and I’ve never actually witnessed a group of carol singers cheerfully wassailing in the streets. But the point is we set the time aside to eat and laugh as a family. Even if it is a slightly reduced family this year.
Just then the Boy Child wanders into the lounge room dragging a Trunkii stuffed with hoodies, LEGO City and cuddly toys. “I’ve packed mum!” he cheerfully informs me. “Christmas is going to be great!”
And you know what? I think he might just be onto something.
So wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, have a good one. See you in 2018…