My Very English Christmas

Johanna's picture

With Christmas now less than two weeks away, our writers are revealing their opinions and experiences of the festive period in a new series of posts. Over the next week, we will be publishing posts from a number of writers from different backgrounds and cultures. First up is Colombian student Johanna. 

"Last year was my first Christmas in England. I was struggling to keep my mind working properly all through the premature nights of winter, when I started to feel a homesickness that only a Christmas tree can cause. Encouraged by the Christmas spirit, my English flat mate invited me to spend the days with her family.

I arrived on Christmas Eve and the welcome was warm and happy- I met her parents and her two younger brothers in the kitchen while they were cooking the dinner. During the dinner I talked about Colombian traditions and asked about English ones. The parents, one at each end of the large table, competed to try and monopolize the answers while their eldest daughter, my friend, tried to point out the mistakes of their opinions and remind them that there was a guest at the table.

Christmas Day

The next day was proper Christmas and I took part in a very British tradition- a nice long walk in the countryside. Then we opened the "stocking" which is a very long sock fill with all kind of sweets and curiosities. As with all the other Christmas traditions, the younger son Googled it to find out about the origin and then read it to give me a better understanding. Later my friend made the Christmas dinner and the rest of the family sat in the living room. The chimney and wine helped to create a lovely atmosphere for conversation that was only suddenly interrupted by rock music that the oldest son wanted to listen to. The mum didn't mind the music but the dad was furious. I just remarked that in my house in Colombia there is always music, all the time.

The dinner was huge and included the traditional turkey, roast potatoes, gravy, Brussels sprouts and lots of wine. I was so pleased to have so many different dishes and the jokes in the Christmas crackers really contributed to the conversation! I already had told them all about the Colombian Christmas traditions.

Boxing Day

Next day was Boxing Day- a day that according to Google originated in a custom of giving presents and money to the poor. Nowadays in the middle class context of a family in the countryside, it is mainly about watching films and resting. The selection of the film however was a difficult process. We had to mediate the tastes of 15 and 18-year-old boys with an intellectual woman of 24 years old and two middle aged adults. Finally, after a painfully slow selection process, we watched a film and then everyone went for a nap.

Resting my head in my friend's sister's bed, who was living in another country and couldn't make it for Christmas, I realized how much I missed home. It was not the food, nor the music or any "traditional" element that I was missing, but the joyful and contradictory feeling you get when your family together is gathered together. All the discussions, tensions, differences of opinion, tastes, and relentless negotiations with those that know you and love you despite everything. I believe that it is what constitutes the primary and universal best Christmas tradition."

Johanna Perez is a Colombian student currently studying an MA in Anthropology and Cultural Politics at Goldsmiths.

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