Christmas isn’t just the most magical time of the year – for global citizen NMITA DOAK, it’s also a time to reminisce on Christmases gone by, to recreate traditions and decorate her home in truly twinkly style. Nmita doesn’t believe in doing things by half; she goes all out every season with a new divine Christmas theme. Newly relocated to North Virginia, we show off her home last Christmas and Orchard Condo – Gramercy Park and ask how she creates a memorable Christmas for her family no matter where she is in the world!
Tell us about your family and your journey to Singapore.
My husband Bill and I are both Kiwis, but we’ve lived an expat life for over 14 years. We’re parents to our Zhanna and Wyatt and fur-child Ralph. We moved to Singapore after a stint in Dubai and instantly fell in love with Gramercy Park condo in Orchard. It was smaller than our home in Dubai but had wonderful facilities such as a 50-metre pool, aqua aerobics pool, kids’ waterpark, tennis court, gym, barbecue pit and a large grassy area. We were lucky to have such a brilliant community. As one of the first families to move into the condo, we had a fabulous choice of apartments and ended up on the 22nd floor with stunning views from Dempsey Hill to Marina Bay Sands.
You’ve now relocated to the States; how did you find the transition?
Right, we’ve just moved to the US after five years in Singapore, and have settled in Tyson’s Corner, North Virginia. We’re currently living in a condo which is a short walk to the kids’ school and a 20-minute drive to downtown Washington DC.
The kids have settled in so well and have nice friends. We have a gorgeous community which felt instantly like Gramercy Park. I’m beyond excited to see what our future holds. We’re in the process of buying a new home in the area, which is a thrilling project. For fellow expats out there considering a relocation, rest assured it’s been an easy transition. We were sad to leave Singapore behind, but we take solace in the fact that we’re only a flight away. Your home is a veritable Christmas wonderland.
What inspires your decorating theme each year?
Deciding the theme for Christmas is dependent on what is going on in our lives at the time. During COVID lockdown, I opted for a sheep theme, which brought a little of New Zealand to Singapore. The year I was pregnant with Zhanna, I had a pink-themed tree, and then later a tree decorated in blue when pregnant with Wyatt.
As the kids have grown, I’ve loved taking them to the store and letting them each pick a decoration. One year, I’ll have a beautiful tree with all the decorations selected by the children. Christmas to me is about creating memories to treasure. It doesn’t have to be over the top; it’s about building on the small things I’ve collected over the years.
Do you follow any special Christmas traditions?
Every year, I take a Christmas family photo for good old-fashioned Christmas cards to mail out to family and friends. It’s a little tradition I’ll always hold onto. I’ve been looking back at old photoshoots and I’m surprised, and a little sad, at how fast my children have grown.
I celebrate with friends and family for the whole month and usually arrange a mixture of events. With restrictions now gone, it’s easier as I can host larger groups. I adore cooking Christmas turkey and my favourite Jamie Oliver Christmas cookbook comes out every year. I have this really yummy pistachio and cranberry stuffing I’ve made for years (I make a little vegetarian one for myself!). I’m in my happy place cooking and watching my family and friends happy, sharing stories and singing carols.
Growing up, my sister Jamini and I loved Christmas, and even though my parents are Indian, they enjoyed celebrating with us too. We’d set up a Christmas tree and put real socks out as our stockings. Thankfully, Santa always visited! We didn’t take part in traditional Christmas celebrations, but we’d have a picnic on the beach with mum’s yummy Indian potato and fresh peas dish. I’ve now incorporated this childhood favourite into our Christmas smorgasbord.
Creating gift boxes for my kids and their friends with lots of fun activities and games is another special tradition of mine. It’s hard for young kids to sit at a table for a long period of time, so each box is designed to keep them busy. Seeing them all sharing, playing and giggling together brings me so much joy.
You’ve lived all over the world! How do you decide where to spend Christmas?
Having lived abroad so long, we like to go back to New Zealand and take turns between my family in Wellington and Bill’s family in Hawkes Bay. When it’s Bill’s year, the whole family gets together (more than 30 relatives), and we have a fun day together enjoying a true NZ summer Christmas barbecue.
However, over the years we’ve moved further away, so we take advantage of the opportunity to travel. We’ve had skiing Christmases in Chamonix, St Moritz and Zermatt. Building snowmen is the best. In Zermatt, we woke up Christmas morning and saw that the roof of the neighbour’s house had footprints to the chimney with no other prints leading up to it. My kids’ reaction to this was priceless… they knew Santa was for real!
What do you do on the actual day to create memories?
On Christmas Eve, I gift everyone matching pyjamas and a Christmas Eve story. We have a family cookiedecorating session while drinking hot chocolate (and mulled wine for the adults). In Singapore, we used to turn the air-conditioning right down to make it feel like winter.
On Christmas morning, I wake up early to be a part of the excitement. There’s always half-eaten carrots, notes to Santa with replies, footprints and a few oats scattered around from the reindeer. After all the fun, we open a few presents, but I space this out throughout the day so the kids really appreciate what they’ve received. We’ll enjoy a festive family breakfast and listen to Christmas music while cooking our late afternoon feast. We like to wrap up the day satiated and sleepy with a nice family Christmas movie on the couch.
Why is Christmas your favourite time of the year?
I have so many wonderful Christmas memories. To me, Christmas is about being with the people you love – and, if you can’t be with a loved one, calling them and letting them know you’re thinking of them. Everyone we’ve met over the years from one country to the next holds a special place in our heart.
From my family to yours, I wish you all a sparkling and magical Christmas. May 2023 bring many fun adventures you will treasure!
This article first appeared in the December 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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