Ghosts of Christmas Past

In which all good things come to those who wait…

Carols at the Embassy
Joyful and Triumphant

To anyone else watching, the scene wouldn’t have looked too momentous: a beautiful winter’s evening in Abu Dhabi, with about a hundred or so Brownies, Girl Guides (like Kid A) and assorted helpers (like Mrs LC) singing Christmas carols and attempting to be heard over the thud of construction deep in the heart of the city.

But to me it was a cathartic, almost spiritual, experience that helped slay a three-year old ghost.

The occasion was the Brownies’ festive concert. Al fresco singing, excited kids, proud parents, the works. Yes, it was 25C outside, so the snow wasn’t so much deep and crisp and even as non-existent, but you can only play the hand you’re dealt, right?

Cranes overshadow the Embassy garden

The venue for this charming soirée was the incongruous surroundings of the British Embassy right in the heart of town.

I say incongruous, because the Embassy’s mix of low-rise villas and lush greenery is surrounded on all sides by the relentless march of progress, in the form of skyscrapers and tower blocks. (As in Doha, construction continues long into the night here, hence the girls having to battle the noise.)

But the real pleasure wasn’t to be had in the rousing chorus of Jingle Bells, or pondering once again that ‘my true love ‘ in the 12 Days of Christmas sounds like precisely the kind of creepy stalker for whom restraining orders were created.

Instead, it came from a sense of closure three years in the making.


December, 2012; I had been an expat in Doha for three months. Having barely finished unpacking, and skint from having to kit out an entire house, there was no way we were going anywhere for Christmas.

But staying put meant we needed to find signs of festive life, some semblance of old traditions – only we were looking for them in a country which wasn’t playing ball. The non-religious elements of the season were tolerated, but everything else was fairly non existant.

Wham! Last Christmas
I’m old enough to remember when this was originally released *sigh*

So, Filipino choirs singing Last Christmas in hotel lobbies: no problem. O Little Town of Bethlehem: not so much.

We were desperate for anything that resembled the Christmases we had left behind, so when we heard about a Carol concert at the British Embassy, we leapt at the chance to go.

Having had to hustle two smaller kids (then 8 and 5) to get ready and out the door, tensions were already running high. But our total and utter failure to find the event, during an increasingly fraught night-time mystery tour of our new home city, compounded the situation. Voices were raised, he said with typically British understatement.

It would have been far better all round if we’d just stayed home, and stuck on a CD. (You can read the full story here.)

Excess baggage

Christmas tree UAE
Two countries, four Christmases; our fake plastic tree keeps on trucking…

The failure of that night stuck with me like a stone in my shoe throughout my time in Qatar. It was a symbolic reminder of the challenges of moving abroad; of the way in which even the simplest things can prove frustratingly hard to achieve.

So, when an opportunity presented itself to right a historical wrong, nothing was going to stand in my way.

I already knew where the Embassy was; our names had been on the guest list for weeks, and the only thing that might have gone wrong was if Mrs LC and Kid A, who had briefly popped back to the UK to buy me some Mini Cheddars (and to surprise Mrs LC’s mum on the occasion of a landmark birthday), might have been delayed on their return.

But they were back in time, the Embassy was exactly where we thought it was, and our names were on the invitation list. Three years of waiting paid off in spades.

It might have been in a different country, but I finally got to sing carols at the British Embassy. Glad tidings of comfort and joy, indeed.


2 thoughts on “Ghosts of Christmas Past

  1. Roy B December 15, 2015 / 11:43 am

    My fondest memories of Christmas are the times I spent as a child with my family in the Langdales in the Lake District,. we would rent a cottage for the week, snow outside and a warm fireplace inside , really evocative memories of the perfect Christmas.
    Remanicing with my parents I got a totally different perspective , frozen pipes, ice and condensation drppiing down the walls and plenty of hot water bottles – they were miserable and couldn’t wait to get home.
    Fast forward 30 years I was spending Christmas in a country that didn’t officially allow any celebrations and invariably I was working right through ,
    Fastforward another ten years , I was brought up to believe the Aussie dream of Christmas on the beach , twelve years later and twelve damp Christmas days so I’ve yet to experience this , and to be honest I don’t think it would top my childhood memories.

    My girls memories are now being created , and listening to them sing the Aussie version of jingle bells ( the one with the Holden Ute ) I think their memories will be just as fond .

    Merry Christmas

    • littlecity December 20, 2015 / 2:23 am

      Between them, memories of the past and expectations of the future play a lot of tricks on us, don’t they?

      I think the crucial thing is not forgetting to enjoy the present while it’s here, even if you sometimes have to force yourself to ‘live in the moment’. Wishing you a very happy Christmas, whatever it brings!

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