It's my first Xmas in more than a decade. Coming from a country where the day can go by with scarcely a mention on the news, I'm currently surrounded by the signs of the festival; peace and goodwill to all men, carollers and rampany commercialism.
Driving home from work in the evenings, I pass house after house with their lawns lit up with nativities, nodding raindeer, trees and all other possible imagery that can be manufactured and sold in bulk - the electricity bill alone for all of these houses must be incredible, to say nothing of the cost of buying all the installations to outdo the neighbours.
Shops are festooned with red and green, "holiday" greetings, trees, wreaths and ornaments and parents trying desperately to find a PS3 or Wii before the 25th. The media is flooded with advice on how to deal with the family and how to plan (starting 3 weeks in advance) for cooking a meal for 10(!) people.
It's when I look around at all these outward symbols of a non-Jewish festival, albeit one that has been perverted to microwave turkey meals, arguing with the inlaws, watching the game and presents, that I really miss home more than ever. As a Jew, I consider myself to be privileged; our holidays have not been hijacked in the same way - they still have meaning. We place an incredible, wonderful value on family being together and have a tremendous tradition of Hachnasat Orchim which seems fairly alien to the world in which I'm temporarily based, no matter how large a smile the checkout girl gives when wishing me a "nice day". Most importantly, it's only in our country that we aren't surrounded by someone else's symbols - it's the only way to truly live a complete Jewish life style; personal, communal and national.