Far from home
Newfoundlanders abroad talk traditions and being away from family
Christmas is a time of giving and sharing.
It’s a time of family and friends for those who are lucky enough to be spending it with those they love. Some people, while they get to spend Christmas with friends and family, they do not get to do it at home where their Christmas traditions began.
The majority of Grand FallsWindsor native Kayla Jenkins’ family and lifetime friends (and now their families) still reside in her hometown, with her father and uncle so close they can practically pass sugar across the clothes line. Jenkins, however, has been living away from home since 2013 when she took her first job as a medical laboratory assistant at the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can take the girl out of the small town, but you can’t take the small town out of the girl,” Jenkins said. “I’m blessed to have grown up on the genuine love and kindness that is small town Newfoundland.” She is currently living in Toronto, Ont. after being offered a once in a lifetime dream job at SickKids Hospital.
“I took a leap of faith, packed a bag and hopped on my first plane ride out of Newfoundland,” Jenkins said. “I’m now working in the fast-paced world of the emergency room as an emergency medicine technician.”
Last Christmas was her first year away from the island for the holidays. However, she had been away from her family for the holidays in the past due to work.
“Working in health care, we don’t always get to spend the holidays with our own loved ones as we are caring for your loved ones and ensuring they are safe, and happy, too,” Jenkins said. “I was fortunate enough to spend last year’s holiday with my cousin’s family just outside of the city.”
This year she will be working and unfortunately unable to spend the holidays with her loved ones.
“I will be spending my Christmas Day spreading joy, light, and my love throughout the emergency department at SickKids Hospital,” she said. “I feel fortunate though to be able to spend my holiday helping children in need, and sharing the magic of the season with their families as well as my SickKids family.”
Since last year Jenkins has begun a few city traditions of her own that she finds quite enjoyable. The Christmas window revealing at the Hudson’s Bay is a must attend event.
She will be attending a midnight mass service after her 12hour shift on Christmas Eve, and then having breakfast with her neighbors on Christmas morning after helping her dog unwrap his presents.
“Life in the city is what you make it,” Jenkins said. “It’s easy to feel alone, especially around the holidays here in Toronto, lost in the crowds of people.
“Remembering who you are, and all of life’s blessings that you do have despite being ‘alone’ at times is a coping mechanism I often use. It’s difficult to realize you’ve grown up, and around the holidays that can make you feel a little sad, or scared.”
She has brought Newfoundland and Labrador traditions to her friends in Toronto, including Tibb’s Eve.
“Is there any greater N.L. tradition?” she said.
Jenkins has also continued a tradition that started when she was a child. Each year her family would watch the Santa Claus parade and decorate their tree the same day with takeout.
“It’s a small tradition but it’s one that feels like home, and it has always felt like the right day to decorate my little tree,” she said. “I proudly hang my Newfoundland and Labrador ornament front and center.
Toronto may be her current residence, but Newfoundland and Labrador will always be her home, she said, adding she takes pride in where she came from, and talking to others about her hometown.
“I am blessed to have been raised in small town Newfoundland and Labrador, and to have made the Christmas memories that I have,” Jenkins said. “When I feel sad about my family gathering around the dinner table without me, I remember how important my job is and how much more I am needed by my SickKids family this Christmas.
“I am overjoyed to have been given this life experience that for years was merely a dream, so despite being away from home at this time, I will proudly head to work this Christmas day with a smile on my face.”
Allison Furlong, originally from the little island of St. Brendan’s, where her parents still live, has a brother and his family in Torbay, and family and friends across the province.
But she is many miles away. Furlong has been living in Doha, Qatar for nearly five years, working at College of the North Atlantic – Qatar. She worked at CNA – NL for many years and lived in Seoul, South Korea previously.
She has only been home for Christmas once in the last five years – and that was last year.
“I work in International Education so I’ve spent nearly half of my time travelling with students during the holiday season,” Furlong said. “For example, this year I will be overseeing a volunteer program from Dec. 13-22 in Java, Indonesia. I also travelled to Nepal overseeing a volunteer program in December 2016 as well.”
Furlong said some of her colleagues head home for the holidays but many more use the opportunity to travel, adding she heard many horror stories from colleagues who travelled home for Christmas only to spend a large portion of their time stranded in airports. The travel time is upwards of 24 hours or more each way, and during unpredictable weather during the Christmas season, it can take even longer. Most people are back to work on Dec. 30 so it’s a long way to go for a little over two weeks.
She does however, spend at least four or five weeks home For her second Christmas in Toronto, where she works at SickKids hospital, Grand Falls-Windsor native Kayla Jenkins has new traditions and festivities she takes in. Here she is at the Toronto Christmas Parade on Nov. 18 proudly wearing her Newfoundland Fries Before B’ys hat from Figgy Duff Dory, with the SickKids float behind her. during the summer months.
“It’s great to see family and of course get a chance to catch a few cod when the food fishery opens,” Furlong said. “I also love the fresh Newfoundland air and have to spend as much time outdoors as humanly possible.”
She also keeps family feeling close by Facetiming regularly.
“The great thing about technology is that my two-and-halfyear-old nephew knows me as if I live in the province,” Furlong said. “He even asks for my cat – Leila – by name.”
She always Facetimes family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and with her nephew getting of the age that he can now get excited about Santa Claus, she has definitely thought about being at home.
“Being from Newfoundland, we’re very family-oriented people,” Furlong said. “For me, if I’m not at home during Christmas, it’s like Christmas is just put on hold for that year.
“I don’t miss being home if I’m not celebrating Christmas, which I never do unless I’m at home. People often say that Christmas is all about family, and I can 100 per cent attest that this is true. I’ve done various things on Dec. 25 – skied, worked, travelled, et cetera.”
She noted, “When I’ve spent Christmas in a warmer climate, it doesn’t even feel like Christmas to me. When I’ve worked, it’s like any other day. And when you’re on your own or travelling with strangers, you make the most of it, always aware of the fact that it’s not really Christmas if you aren’t with your family. At least that’s my way of looking at it.”
Furlong doesn’t usually bring any Newfoundland Christmas items with her, however, her family are always great at sending gifts and things from Newfoundland, including lots of Newfoundland Chocolate Company goodies, Lonely Planet t-shirts and even a Merby calendar.
“Having lived abroad for a long time, I am somewhat aware of the fact that my being away is probably harder on my family than it is on me,” Furlong said. “But I think they understand my love of travel and volunteer work and they take comfort in knowing that I’ll be home for a month or more in the summer.”
Embree native Pamela Wheaton is still having a hard time getting used to not living home, even almost two years later.
Being away from her parents, grandparents and extended family isn’t getting easier, but she admits it’s nice to be close to her husband Timothy after him being fly-in, fly-out for many years.
Pamela, Timothy, Pitbull mix Gertie and African lovebird Mango moved to Fort McMurray, Alta. In February 2017.