Our earliest memories of the festive season almost always include family — from bleary-eyed traditional breakfasts at home, to seeing relatives for the first time all year. More than any other time of year, our holiday rituals are integrally infused with those with whom we are surrounded. “I can’t really think of a standout [holiday] memory with my own family, because for me one of the main comforts of Christmas is the familiarity of doing similar things every year,” my friend Elena tells me on the topic of holidays. “Except one year my younger cousins adapted ‘Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer’ to be about my dad and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.”

This year, however, is a little different. “This [festive season] I’ll be in Italy. I’m living and studying in Milan at the moment but for Christmas I’ll be in a small town in the south kind of close to Naples called Maddaloni.” It’s a long way from her Sydney home and the family she has there.

Another friend of mine, Trecia, is flying home for the holidays after being in Sydney all year. “I think the most important part [of the holidays] is getting together — especially as I am an international student who cannot be with family for most of the year. With my friends in China, it is very important to see each other during the vacation to catch up with their news.”

A cursory glance at your Facebook news feed will reveal it’s not uncommon for friends and family to be scattered across the globe — moreso than ever before — and along with this shift we see a shift in the communications and technology we use to keep in touch with one another. Email and instant messaging, video calls and social media mean we are updated in a constant and intimate way, no matter where our loved ones are located. Marshall McLuhan is associated with the term “the global village” — the removal of the hindrance of space to information, travel and communication. We can go anywhere in 24 hours, find information in seconds and see, hear and talk to people that may be on a different continent (or on the next block) at the same rate. And yet, we remain drawn together to physical closeness with our loved ones during the holiday season.

“The Chinese Spring festival is usually [during] the vacation, and every year we go to the place where my grandparents are and spend the holiday there. My aunts and uncles and their families will also go, so it is a big annual family get together,” Trecia recalls. “When I’m actually away from them and live by myself, I finally realise that they are my source of power.”

So many of our holiday memories are integrally linked to places — both places that are almost reserved for the festive season, and places that are given new life with celebrations. “Going to sing carols with my nana was the one time of year I ever went to church; when I was little I liked it because they gave all the kids lollies, but when I got older I enjoyed being able to share that time with her since I knew how important it was to her,” Elena says. “I think holidays now are (slightly) less about the presents and more about spending time with people/family/friend that I don’t spend much time with the rest of the year.”

Communications technology has transformed the way we keep in contact with one another: it’s indisputable. While on her travels, Elena keeps her family and friends updated and inspired with a newly-created photoblog, while Trecia communicates by email with her loved ones during the semester. It’s meant the creation of new rituals — like the greetings and well-wishes circulated on social media — as well as the transformation of existing ones — my own festive menu now consists largely of recipes found online and recommended by friends. Social media and the internet have made it that much easier to talk to the ones we care about, and allow us to seamlessly traverse previously insurmountable physical distances. But so do our cherished traditions bind us across the planet and at this time of year. Trecia reflects, “when I was in high school and had tons of homework, I thought the holidays are all about relaxing and doing nothing. Yet now, I find holidays should be spent with the people I care about and doing something meaningful.”

“This year I’m going to spend the Christmas/New Year period with the family that hosted me when I did an exchange four years ago,” Elena says, and while she misses her family at home she’ll make the best of it. “Nativity scenes (called presepe) in family homes and churches are really big [in Italy] and I love looking at them, and obviously the food in Southern Italy at Christmas is incredible.” Although our loved ones may be strewn across the globe, we remain connected by our relationships, and rituals — wherever we may find them.

Originally published at http://issuu.com/things-magazine on January 2, 2016.

I’m a writer from Sydney.

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