ACROSS THE MILES: Christmas in the land of Oz

Martina Cullinane (far right) with her friends Louise Gleeson and Meg Fehilly pictured in Cork airport on the day they left for Australia in September.

For most people, Christmas is a time of celebration with family and friends. It may be one of the only times in the year when the chicks return to the nest from different parts of the country, or indeed different parts of the world, to spend quality time in the family home for a few days. 

However, for some people living abroad, it isn’t possible to make the journey home for Christmas, which leaves a vacant seat at the dinner table on Christmas day.

This can make the Christmas period an incredibly lonely time for many, but for some, the idea of a spending Christmas in new country can be an exciting one.


Martina Cullinane from Monamon in Lismore, left for Sydney, Australia just 3 months ago on Sept 6. At only 22 years of age, she was looking for an adventure, having worked long, unsocial hours in the hospitality sector in Cork city for the last number of years. “I was doing the same thing every day and I wanted to experience something new,” she said.

When she left for Australia, the thoughts of Christmas didn’t really enter her head as she was just focusing on the exciting journey ahead of her. Speaking to The Avondhu, Martina explained that coming home for Christmas wasn’t really an option at all. “I can’t come home for Christmas because of the cost of it, and because of work commitments over here.”

With Christmas only a matter of days away, Martina described the differences between the build up to Christmas in Australia as opposed to Ireland. “They celebrate it in the same way, I suppose, but it feels forced. It feels more like any other holiday, like Easter,” she said.

The biggest difference is, of course, the climate. Temperatures in Sydney are over 30 degrees Celsius at the moment and so Martina’s plans for Christmas Day are a little bit different than her Christmases in Monamon. After having Christmas dinner with her friends, Martina plans to spend the rest of the Christmas day on the beach.


Martina admitted that although everything is so brand new and this Christmas will be full of new experiences, a hint of loneliness for home is always there.

A family tradition at Christmas time in the Cullinane household is to attend Midnight Mass in Mount Melleray together as a family and so, Martina has arranged to ring home when her family return from Mass.


Missing a loved one who is abroad for Christmas can be a tough station. Dressmaker Sheila Power, of Chez de Paor bridal shop in Fermoy, knows that lonely feeling only too well as her daughter Aimee left for Australia six and half years ago and has only been home for one Christmas since.

“I found it extremely hard because my Mam passed away the same year. I can’t explain the first Christmas. It was like you were grieving,” said Sheila.

Aimee left for Australia with her boyfriend Dave back in 2010, and Sheila explained that even the smallest reminders of them upset her, especially at Christmas time. “You know the ads where you see everyone coming home for Christmas and they’re at airports, when that used to come on, I couldn’t hack it. I had to leave the room.”

Aimee and Dave surprised Shiela and their whole family when they returned home unannounced for Christmas in 2011 but that was the last Christmas they spent at home up until this year. After four and a half years, they will be spending Christmas at home this year and will be getting married in a few weeks at home. Sheila expressed her happiness and excitement for this Christmas.

“This year I want no present. It wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t get a card or a present from anyone, just having my family together this Christmas is all I want,” said Sheila.


For many people living abroad, the arrival of post from Ireland is one of the most important links to home. Sheila recalled the long box, which they nicknamed ‘the coffin’, which they would fill with quintessentially Irish goodies and send across the water every year.

Luckily for Sheila, the long-distance is soon to be shortened and the Australian adventure has come full circle. “We sent out the decorations for their first Christmas tree in Australia and we have them on our tree this year at home. They brought them home because with the help of God, they will be home for good within six to eight months,” she said.


For many young people who finished school or college around a decade ago, emigration to Australia, Canada or New Zealand became common place. Many skilled tradespeople and talented young Irish people left Ireland in the hope of finding good work or simply living the dream. The experience is different for everyone, at home or abroad, but there’s no doubt that many families in our local area will be thinking of someone living abroad this Christmas.

For Shiela and her family, this Christmas is set to be a memorable one and the spirit of Christmas is at an all time high.

“You always hope your kids are going to be around,” admitted Shiela. “I know they want to spread their wings and fly away and you have to leave them do what they want to do, but I love to have family around.”