Belfast Telegraph

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Coming home for Christmas: Back for the festivities

By Kerry McKittrick

As families prepare to welcome back sons, daughters, brothers and sisters for the holidays, we meet four locals jetting in from Canada, Dubai and England for a traditional Northern Ireland celebration.

An estimated 219,000 people passed through Heathrow Airport on Saturday many of whom were returning to these shores.

As the airports, ports, train and bus stations here start to bustle with natives making their way home from all corners of the globe, the Christmas rush is in full swing.

For some the journey will involve a motorway drive, while others might spend a day on trains to make their ferry connection across the Irish Sea - praying any unpredictable bad weather won't throw travel plans into chaos.

And then there are those who will be journeying for thousands of miles to get home for Christmas Day from Australia, America or elsewhere.

While many people have left the province for good to study, work or find a different lifestyle, you can be sure the only place they want to be at Christmas is at home with their nearest and dearest.

'There's nothing like seeing my dad's car at the airport'

Peter Cardwell (31) is a reporter for Good Morning Britain. From Richhill he now lives in London. He says:

I moved to London in June 2014. Up until then I had worked for UTV for two years but decided I wanted to expand my career and London seemed to have more media job opportunities. I did pack my bags and move over without a job, but having previously worked for Newsnight and Channel 5 I decided to take the chance. Now I have a contract with Good Morning Britain.

I went to university in Oxford so I already had friends in London. I used to work with one of my best friends who is now my landlady which solved any accommodation issues.

No matter what happens though, I have to come home for Christmas. Journalism can be an unpredictable job and I can be sent anywhere in the world to report so I don't have many rituals in it - but I do have traditions surrounding Christmas.

I go to the same party with my friends in Dublin on December 22 every year, and also exchange Christmas presents with my oldest neighbour and friends on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day is spent with my parents, Sandra and Ken, and my brother Tom. My granny Ida still drives herself over - even though she's 89 - and my mum's friend Lillian comes too.

There is nothing like coming home and seeing my dad's car when he picks me up at the airport.

I do get a little culture shock still ... but then someone will come out with a typical Northern Ireland phrase at the airport and I'll know I'm properly home."

'I will always try to come back no matter where I am'

Megan Taylor (26) is from Carrickfergus. She works as a PR account manager in Toronto. She says:

I spent a year on placement in Toronto in 2013 - I chose Canada over London or Dublin because my brother lives out there too and so I had family there. I didn't enjoy the opportunities in PR here when I came back so when I was offered a job with the company in Toronto in April this year I jumped at the chance.

I'm on a two-year visa but I really don't know what I'll do at the end of it. I tend not to make long-term plans so this is something I'm enjoying doing at the moment. I'll reassess when the time comes.

This is the first time I've been home since April and I decided to surprise my parents. They knew I was coming home but didn't think I would make it back until Christmas Eve. I managed to get off work a couple of weeks early and surprise them. I now have almost four full weeks at home.

My brother is staying in Canada with his wife and her family so he'll come back next April.

Holidays for me are more about being at home with the family than they are about presents. I love all the traditions; such as going to buy a real Christmas tree and decorating it and my dad dressing up as Santa - he does Santa for lots of charities and events so it's not Christmas without seeing him donning the red suit and white beard.

On Christmas Day there will be my parents, my sister and her children - she just had a baby last week - as well as my nana and some cousins, and me.

There is a bit of adjustment when I come home. People in Canada aren't in as much of a frenzy to shop as we are here. In saying that you arrive at the airport at this time of year and everywhere you look there are smiling faces. It's about being with the people you love.

I will certainly always try to come home for Christmas no matter where I am. It ends the year on a perfect note."

'I cannot imagine Christmas anywhere except back here'

Matthew Montgomery (25) is originally from Belfast and currently works as an estate agent in Dubai.  He says:

I've been living in Dubai for about nine months now. I studied surveying in Newcastle-upon-Tyne before coming back to Northern Ireland and working in a small estate agency in Comber.

I originally intended to go to work in London where I had been offered a job at Foxton's Estate Agents.

However, a friend of mine persuaded me to try Dubai. As I'm single with no ties, it seemed like the perfect time to go and I could always go back to London.

Dubai is great city with a beautiful climate; also my earning potential is untapped and there is no income tax.

Of course, I missed home, friends and family when I first arrived, but I've settled down now.

I play rugby and have made new friends. There are a lot of people around my age, so I have a great social life.

This is the first time I've been home for nine months, so it's the longest I've been away from home. Dubai is great, but a couple of days ago I was sitting in 27 degree heat outside a restaurant. There were Christmas trees in the malls, but there really wasn't any sense of Christmas spirit at all. I was really looking back to coming home and feeling the cold.

I'm going to make the most of my time while I'm here - it can be a balancing act as my parents are separated and my grandparents are still alive, so there are lots of people to spend time with.

I'll always want to come home for Christmas and to spend as much time with my family as I can. New Year's Eve is a big party in Dubai, so I will head back in 2016.

I want to make the most of living there while I can.

While I'm not sure how long I'll be in Dubai - probably a couple of years, it's known as a transient city, so people don't tend to settle here - I can't imagine spending Christmas anywhere else other than at home."

'I have certain traditions I always keep for Belfast'

Brian Johnston (36) is originally from Belfast. He works as a recruitment consultant and lives in Salford, Manchester. He says:

Recently I've realised that I will have lived longer in Manchester than Belfast by this Christmas.

I left Belfast when I was 18 to study design at the University of Salford. Manchester was the cool student place to be at the time and I thought that going away to university would be a better experience for me.

When I finished my course I decided to go back to Belfast if I didn't have a job when the time was up on my student digs. Luckily, I got the first one job I applied for - it was a graduate training programme at a car hire company.

The longer I stayed in England the better the opportunities seemed to be compared to Belfast. I've been in Manchester for so long now and I'm so settled I don't think I will ever move back to Belfast.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas, though, if I didn't come home to the city where I grew up. I always spend it with my family. My dad's side of the family live in South Africa so there have been some Christmases in Johannesburg. Santa will be walking around in his red suit but everyone else will be in shorts - it's just not the same. It needs to be cold for a proper Christmas.

I have certain traditions I always keep for Christmas in Belfast. I leave a present or two to buy when I get back home so I have an excuse to go into town and have a walk around and meet some friends for a drink.

I can see how the city centre has changed since the last time I was home - I love seeing the Cathedral Quarter open up because it's a brilliant place to go. Manchester is the kind of place where there will be some kind of live event or music for everyone everyday of the week and Belfast is certainly going in that direction now too.

Christmas will be the whole family including my sister and brother.

I organise my plans around my sister who works as a doctor in London and is either off before or after Christmas so I make sure I'm home at the same time as her and her family."

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