Adjusting to Expat Life in Port Douglas
Honestly , I’m confused, my head is a mess. I spent forty-two years experiencing Christmas in winter, December, in my mind, will always be cold, now, suddenly, our tropical Christmas is in summer, it’s too weird!
I find myself living in Port Douglas, Australia, in an alternate hemisphere, am I supposed to adjust to the idea of Christmas in the tropics? It’s just not right.
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Christmas in the Tropics
I’ve had to abandon my old ways of celebrating Christmas and adopt a whole new festive routine. No more decking the halls with boughs of holly, no mistletoe, no chestnuts roasting on an open fire, no real tree.
But that’s not the only problem for us, I am what’s called a chef’s widow, I spend a lot of time alone, Christmas day included.
It’s also our geographical remoteness, my family and friends are far, far away in the UK. No family gatherings, no good friends to spend the holidays with, no parties, nothing. Just us, D, Boo and I.
It’s hard, I find it very stressful trying to create a memorable tropical Christmas for the children. With no others around, it’s all me, I’m on duty full-time, trying to jolly everyone along.
But you know what? The children always have the best time, my traditions aren’t their traditions. They haven’t grown up with making Christmas pudding in October and baking mince pies for everyone that calls. They’re not used to having new scarves and gloves from Santa. They don’t expect to have the whole family around the table for lunch, settling down to watch the Queen’s speech and a cheesy movie afterwards. We’ve had to find new ways to make this time of the year special.
Our New Tropical Christmas Traditions
So this is what we do to start feeling festive Down-under.
It’s all about swimming at this time of year. Stinger season has started , it’s stinking hot, the beach is off-limits, but the pool is lovely, like a warm bath. We spend hours out there most days.
Santa always brings new swim goggles, rashies and pool toys.
At some time before Christmas we always try to visit the Great Barrier Reef, it’s a special treat and it’s good to go before the wet season really gets underway.
Our family favorite at this time of year is to go for a swim in a rain forest stream. It’s something we only do around Christmas, once the wet season really takes hold it becomes dangerous, water pours down the mountains into the Mossman Gorge, rapidly raising levels. In winter it’s too cold, that water is icy all year round, unbelievably icy, which is good, it means there are no crocodiles.
No extended family dinner for us, it’s lunch for 3, me and my boys. People tend to feel sorry for us, dining alone on Christmas day, which is OK, I can deal with that. It’s a great way to get even closer to my children, we’re a tight knit little threesome. Dad is nearby, he’s busy working, but he’s there. We have fun , the boys pick whatever they would like from the buffet, gorge themselves on desserts and we pull crackers and wear silly hats just the same as everyone else.
Festive food is different too, you don’t see a lot of turkeys in the shops, people here seem to go for jumbo sized hams. We’re not ham eaters, but we’re kept pretty happy with the Christmas buffet. Lots of locally caught prawns, salads and tropical fruits. This is the best time of year for mangoes, passion fruit and just about anything else you’d like to put on your pavlova. We abandoned Christmas pudding in favor of pavlova and trifle five years ago.
Mulled wine and glasses of coffee liqueur are replaced by chilled bubbly and mojitos, best taken sitting in the pool. I have absolutely no complaints about that adjustment.
In the UK, towns are decorated with festive street lights and the shops put on impressive window displays. That doesn’t happen here. I’m not sure why it doesn’t, it’s a bit odd. Some residents put on sizable displays at home, stringing lights between the palm trees. Every year it’s getting bigger and better.
We have made it our tradition to drive around after dark looking at the lights. We went last night and got doubly lucky, we saw an enormous python emerging from one of the storm drains.
It’s still weird though, a tropical Christmas doesn’t feel right to me, but it’s not so bad, the children are happy, that’s what it’s all about. It gets easier and easier for me each year we spend here. I expect all the Australian expats in the UK are feeling just as displaced in the depths of a British winter. We hope you all have a very happy, peaceful, Christmas, wherever you are in the world.
Simon, one of my favorite New Zealand bloggers has just posted something similar over at Man vs World. Is Christmas better hot or cold?
(By the way, if you want to see our Christmas tree, it’s here.)
Which do you prefer, a tropical Christmas or a traditional white Christmas just like the ones I used to know?
How We Emigrated to Australia From the UK to Become Expats in Port Douglas
I married an Aussie and am the mother of two little Australians, so for me, entering Australia as a permanent resident was fairly straightforward. I just filled in the forms, collected the references, took the health check and I was good to go.
ETA and e visitor visas usually only allow a 3 month stay for foreign passport holders. To do Australia justice, you really could do with longer. It is sometimes possible to extend these visas to six months.
If you would like to stay in Australia long term and really give expat life a go, there are several ways of getting the visa you need.
Working holiday visas are great for the young. These allow 12 months of work and travel in Australia, allowing you to earn to support your adventure down under. Student visas and sponsored travel visas would be another route to consider.
Sponsored family visit visas allow relatives of Australian citizens to stay for 12 months with sponsorship from an agreed individual.
So that was our tropical Christmas reality, over 5 years ago now. We left Australia to travel the world. Since then we have spent Christmas in Singapore, 2 in the UK and 2 in the harsh withers of Romania. Still Christmas feels better to us cold, better yet with snow. It just comes down to what you’re used to I think.