Christmas is a time for getting together – spending time with loved ones, cooking and sharing food, and of course, the exchanging of gifts. But how does the expat community spend Christmas away from home? What’s the best present to send if you’re living abroad and how can you keep in touch during the busy holiday season?
HSBC Bank International has looked into how Christmas is celebrated in popular expat locations across the world and found some surprising similarities. To help celebrate Christmas the Bank is giving expats a chance to win £1000 in gift vouchers to keep the giving going in 2009. Readers can enter the prize draw by visiting Christmas Prize Draw and detailing their experiences of a Christmas abroad. No purchase is necessary and the lucky winner will be randomly chosen on 30 January 2009.
Christmas in Dubai
Christmas time for expats living in Dubai is similar to the experience shared in the UK – spending the day with family and a big lunch. Expats who do not have any family in the city meet their friends for a festive feast in one of the many five-star hotels. Hoteliers make an extra effort to put on special meals, decorations and even a Christmas tree, which is often shipped in from Europe.
Christmas is becoming bigger business in Dubai as more expats make it their home: shopping centres even fill their windows with Christmas displays complete with fake snow. All the major shopping brands are available, but for a distinctive gift local markets provide great bargains for the family back home. And of course, Dubai has its very own man-made ski slope if expats from colder climes miss the wintery weather!
Christmas in South Africa
Family is also the focus for expats in South Africa. The celebrations are very similar to those of the UK, with presents in the morning, followed by a traditional Christmas meal in the afternoon or evening – turkey, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, cranberry sauce, and lashings of gravy. The main difference is that the weather is warm and sunny, so Christmas meals normally take place outside, perhaps in people’s gardens or on terraces.
Shopping centres go over the top with Christmas displays, decorations and festive songs. Children can meet Santa in his grotto and many people attend outdoor carol concerts. Like Dubai, local markets do a popular trade in beautiful hand-made items, such as gifts made by native South Africans, such as the Xhosa and Zulu tribes. Many of these gifts are made from recycled materials. Wine is also a popular choice. Numerous vineyards across the country sell very good quality wine at very reasonable prices.
Christmas in Hong Kong
Expats in Hong Kong love to party at Christmas. The city is filled with lights as the numerous skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island compete with outlandish displays. Some expats spend Christmas Day having a fabulous meal in a top Hong Kong hotel before heading out to the popular ‘WinterFest’, which features the ubiquitous giant Christmas tree, carol songs and themed events. Churches run religious services while international schools hold English-style school fairs.
For those expats looking to send genuine gifts from the Orient home to their loved ones, Hong Kong is renowned for its traditional Chinese markets that sell numerous ornaments, curios and jade jewellery. Expats also adore the secret hideaways that sell ‘designer’ goods at discounted prices. Bargains are there to be found, but make sure you know how to barter well.
Christmas in Singapore
Expats spending the festive season in Singapore are more likely to spend it gathered around the pool than the Christmas tree. The weather is hot and humid and the shops stay open late, which is perfect for those last minute presents!
Much like Hong Kong, the entire shopping district, including Orchard Road and Marina Centre, is decorated with colourful lights that are put up in mid-November and run right through until New Year's Day. Carolling, concerts and parades are just some of the festivities that take place during this period.
How to give presents overseas
Sending gifts home from far off locations can be a real nightmare for expats. So, what’s the best way to get presents to friends and family at Christmas? HSBC Bank International has looked at some ways to make sending Christmas gifts home a little simpler at this busy time.
To help celebrate the Christmas season the Bank is also giving expats a chance to win £1000 of gift vouchers for Amazon.com to keep the giving going in 2009. Readers can enter the prize draw by visiting the Christmas Prize Draw and detailing their experiences of a Christmas abroad. No purchase is necessary and the lucky winner will be randomly chosen on 30 January 2009.
A few top tips for avoiding shopping nightmares this festive season:
- Give a gift that is unique – getting something that can only be bought abroad can make those back home feel extra special
- Use online shopping websites - great bargains can be found and sites will deliver to most addresses
- Christmas hampers are another great gift to help get loved ones back home into the festive spirit. Some supermarket or department stores include the cost of delivery in their hamper prices.
- Buy top-ups or credit for online communication tools, or discount phone cards. Not only are these great presents but they also allows you to stay in touch throughout the year.
- Call in favours from friends back home by asking them to buy gifts for you. This also ensures that presents will be delivered. Money can be paid directly into their bank accounts. Many banks such as HSBC Bank International offer international money transfers.
- Purchase gift vouchers for local department stores –family and friends can then choose what they want at the stores they know and trust
- Flowers, which can be arranged through international or local florists who also usually deliver the finished bouquet
- Remember to send postal items via special delivery or by courier so they don’t get lost
- Don’t forget to wrap up well! Breakages can occur easily, especially on long flights. Use plenty of bubble wrap or padding. Select online stores will ensure that gifts are properly wrapped upon request.
- Post items well in advance of Christmas, at least a month beforehand, to avoid the disappointment of gifts arriving late