Christmas Abroad

By Susan Conley, author of That Magic Mischief

That Magic MischiefWhen I moved to Ireland fifteen years ago, I decided to stay for Christmas. I had an Irish boyfriend, and as it had been some time since I’d had a boyfriend of any nationality, I wasn’t going to pass up the chance of enjoying the festivities with a fella, much less all the unwrapping, and playing fill the stocking. It was my first Christmas with a foreign lover, but not my first away from the family home; I’ve found that venturing forth during the holidays isn’t as difficult as you may think, whether I’m single or coupled up.

You’d think that being single during this time of year is crap, and worse, if you’re on your own, far, far away, then it’s really gotta suck. Depends. Two of my happiest Christmases are separated by thirteen years. In the first, I was single and living in Paris. I had thought to go home for the hols, but since I had just moved from New York to France that September, I didn’t want to wreck my flow by flying back to the States. A new friend, who was also American, single, and in the City of Light for Christmas, invited me to meet two friends of hers — also American, single, and ‘on their own’ — for an absolutely gorgeous meal on Christmas Eve.

As we left the adorable little restaurant, tucked away in a tiny street in Le Marais, a perfectly cinematic snow began to fall. We headed for our different Metro stations chock full of champagne, foie gras, and good will towards all.

On Christmas Day, I rose, at my leisure, to be greeted by a crystalline blue sky, a manageable amount of snow on the ground, a fully operational transit system, and went to the cinema. My only regret about this entire experience is that I chose to see The Road to Wellville, which was rubbish. I chilled out for the rest of the day, and then spent the 26th — which is as big, if not bigger, than both the 24th and 25th combined — hanging out with other friends, eating, drinking, laughing, and as the evening wore on, the inevitable guitar was produced and the singing commenced. Okay, that last makes me cringe a bit, but still, it was clearly memorable.

The other Christmas I spent ‘on my own’ was on a horseriding holiday in Seville, 2007. It was my second Christmas since I’d been separated from my soon-to-be ex-husband, and I had just taken up the sport the previous year. I wanted to do something different that season, so I booked myself on this seven-day equestrian holiday.

Sure, there were a couple of couples in our group, but we were all united in our love for all things equine, our independent and flexible approach to the holiday season, and our ability to choose exactly what we wanted to do with out time and money. That Christmas Day found me on a trek through Spanish orchards on the back of a superb, if fizzy, gelding called Barishnikov, eating clementines that had just been plucked from their trees. Bliss.

Two years ago, I was in Dublin — which sounds as exotic to far flung friends and family as does that Christmas in Paris — and spent the days making excellent headway on my latest novel during the day, and catching up on three seasons of Mad Men during the evenings. There was single malt whisky involved, and a whole bunch of fancy appetizers from Marks & Spencer that I ate, with extreme pleasure, whenever I wanted to eat them. Vol au vents for breakfast? Happy days! I spent the next couple of days at the home of friends, drinking their whiskey, and napping on their couch in between DVDs.

This year, I am going home to the States, and I am looking forward to catching up with family and friends, mooching around Manhattan, and then taking the train up to Niagara Falls for New Year. If I’ve learned nothing else about this fraught time of year, especially post-divorce, my best holidays have been composed of the following: staying open to possibilities, releasing my expectations, and enjoying the company of loved ones, whether or not there is a partner among them.