Nfld. & Labrador

No place like away from home for the holidays

For the first time in years, CBC's Jeremy Eaton is home for the holidays - and what a different experience it is.
After a string of Christmases in other parts of the world — like this sunny and warm one in Mexico in 2013 with his partner Meredith — Jeremy Eaton says he's finally at home for the holidays. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

I have to admit I started listening to Christmas tunes on Dec. 1.

You know, the classics: The Beach Boys' Christmas Album, The Chipmunks Greatest Christmas Hits, Bob Dylan's Christmas in the Heart and Christmas with Weezer.

I found myself glued to the W Network watching less-than-classic Christmas films, like the Melissa Joan Hart-driven Holiday in Handcuffs and Candace Cameron showing she still has it in Christmas Under Wraps.

Despite the absolute awful acting, the warm feeling of Christmas grew in my heart with each gift-wrapped cliché and refill of spiced rum and Coke.

Snow and ski in Austria

But I haven't always been this way. Since 1995, I've spent more holidays away from home than I have here at home.

A big part of that is due to my late step-grandparents. Having left Austria during the Second World War, Dr. Herbert and Susan Jackson ended up in Newfoundland in the early 50's.

A son like me is a Christmas gift that keeps giving … you a hard time.- Jeremy Eaton

For Christmas of 1995 my family got the invite to return to their homeland for the holidays. For a lanky teenager it was an exotic Christmas, filled with Austrian holiday customs, local cuisine and a little bit of skiing.

Thanks to my parents and step-grandparents I got to experience a few of those Christmas holidays in a village called Au with only one draw back.

Annually the media does stories about Christmas travel, but never seems to mention that flying on Christmas Day is a lot cheaper than the days leading up to the holiday.

I spent many a Christmas Day sitting at Pearson International Airport in Toronto waiting for the overnight flight into Zurich or Munich.

Happy Weird-mas

Christmas 1999 at a ski resort in Whistler was possibly one of the weirdest ever. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

After scraping by at Memorial University (under the three-point GPA system I held an average of 0.70), I left academia for ski bum studies.

With help from family and friends I made my way to Whistler in 1999, where I found a very nice couch to call my home and celebrated Christmas with three people I had met a few weeks earlier.

High above town, as Club Intrawest kept resort staff housing halfway up Blackcomb Mountain to keep the riff-raff away from the paying tourist, we did the best to decorate our tiny two-bedroom apartment.

For the first time ever I had the pleasure of working on Christmas Day. Battling a pounding headache, I skied down the hill to work and spent the morning watching the wealthy drop off crying kids for a special holiday ski lesson while Mom and Dad enjoyed the peace and quiet.

Needless to say it has to be the weirdest Christmas memory I have.

Merry Christmas! Can you send cash?

Thanks to divine intervention — and actually going to class — I made it through university with an A average. Like many arts degree holders have done before me, and have done since, I took my talents to Asia to teach English in 2005.

More dinner plans than days, more get-togethers than time can allow. Hard on the waistline, hard on the liver.- Jeremy Eaton

My school shut down for the Christmas holiday so I booked a solo ticket to Thailand, leaving on Christmas Eve. I met a few fellow Canadians on the plane and headed down to Khao San Road.

The night gave way to morning and as the sun rose on Christmas Day a small handful of strangers kept swallowing Christmas cheer until the kind staff told us to go home.

Later that day my Korean bank card wouldn't work so I had to call home. Due to the 10-and-a-half hour time difference I woke my folks up on Christmas morning with a plea for cash.

A son like me is a Christmas gift that keeps giving … you a hard time.

Holiday hoops

A year later I found myself in Vancouver trying to find work as a movie and TV extra. For the month of December I shacked up with my old friend Andy.

With limited work, we started early with the Christmas cheer. As a gift to me, Andy bought us tickets to see the Toronto Raptors play the Seattle Supersonics.

Two days before Christmas we bussed down to Seattle, saw the game and joined some fellow Canadians celebrating the holiday season.

Andy and I still speak fondly of that Christmas, filled with Newfoundlanders in British Columbia.

Cough up for the flight

By 2010 the CBC had offered me a year-long contract as a video journalist in Labrador City. With only four days off for Christmas, I decided to stay in the mining town for the holidays.

On Christmas Eve friends and I went house to house visiting and enjoying the company of others. Sadly, the jovial mood changed when I awoke. Alone in my little apartment.

No tree, no decorations and the –30 C temperature felt especially cold that morning. Hungover, I cursed myself for not taking the hit and paying $1,100 to fly from Wabush to St. John's.

A few hours of feeling sorry for myself were relieved thanks to some good friends who invited me in for brunch, lunch and dinner. What could have been a very lonely Christmas wasn't, thanks to the good people of Labrador West.

Corner Brook

In 2011 I moved to Corner Brook and Meredith had entered my life. As the lowest video journalist on the totem pole, I had to work the holidays. Meredith came from St. John's to spend the holidays.

We had a tiny fake tree, a few lights strung up and a small amount of gifts under the tree. We had each others' company, a few phone calls to parents and our first-ever turkey in the oven.

We made the most of it and the desire to make the next one better. For Christmas 2012 we had a real tree with a few decorations and lights.

We bought stuff for the house, went to a few Christmas parties and settled in for our second Christmas together.

Christmas on the beach

It's kind of hard to get into the Christmas spirit while you're sipping pina coladas on a beach in Mexico. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

While a lover of snow and skiing, I am a loather of shovelling.

As childless 30-somethings, Meredith and I decided to skip town for the next holiday — spending Christmas 2013 in sunny Mexico.

With sand beneath my toes, sun on my face and endless pina coladas on hand, we greeted Santa when he arrived by horse, along the beach. It's kinda hard to get in the Christmas spirit when you're so far from home and it's 30 degrees.

Final family Christmas in Austria

In 2014, it was back to Austria for Christmas with the family. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

In 2014, my aforementioned grandmother, Susan, died. To honour her memory one final trip to Austria was planned.

The last big trip saw Meredith and I sitting in Pearson in Toronto, waiting for the overnight flight into Munich on Christmas Day.

The holiday was made a bit more special with my three biological siblings and their partners coming, as well.

Drinking fine Weissbier and eating schnitzel after a day of skiing is hard to top. The tiny mountain village, home to many of my family Christmases, as the site for one final one.

At home, at last

This year we are home, surrounded by family and friends. More dinner plans than days, more get-togethers than time can allow. Hard on the waistline, hard on the liver.

I often thought of home while I was away on Christmas Day, but thoughts get overwhelmed by what's in front of you. This year is all about seeing parents, siblings, nieces, nephews and extended family.

For us, this Christmas is all about presence.

Happy holidays to you and yours, and all the best in 2016.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeremy Eaton is a reporter and videojournalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.

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