So I was lucky enough to experience this past festive season in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere! Let me tell you – Christmas goes down very differently depending on which side of the equator you find yourself.
It was my first time experiencing the ‘Christmas cheer’ of the UK. What struck me immediately was the fact that Christmas seemed to start as soon as the Halloween decorations had been taken down. I didn’t mind too much, because to me it was a Christmas as I’d only ever experienced in the movies (well, minus the snow). Everyone bustling about town wrapped up warmly, five bags under each arm, looking at the amazing shop window decorations. Christmas here is cold weather and warm hot chocolate. It’s families trying to keep a hold on their ecstatic children and it’s young couples nestled comfortably against one another. For a South African girl, these seemingly simple occurrences were magical.
One of my UK-Christmas highlights was going to the Winchester Christmas Market with my parents who had come for a quick visit just before the holidays started. Winchester was fantastic! Before one even got to the official market, there was a street market down the town’s main road, complete with a live brass band as background music. The official market consisted of little wooden huts with various Christmas’y goods; an ice rink; numerous food stalls and – of course- the smell of mulled wine and mince pies in the air. We wandered aimlessly through the stalls, trying out the different flavours on offer and admiring potential Christmas gifts.
If you ever find yourself in Winchester (which is only about an hour away from Guildford by train, so you should try find yourself in Winchester), you must go to the Cathedral. It is a magnificent, ancient building with a history that is just mind-boggling. It’s almost 1000 years old and has a crypt that is semi-submerged in water for part of the year. Crazy. A plus is that the entrance ticket for the Cathedral gives you a whole years access!
I spent my last evening in chilly Guildford inspired by the warm Christmas spirit munching mince pies, watching ‘The Crown’ (a series-binge I justify as ‘cultural research’) and making mulled wine for some friends.
And then, at long last just before Christmas day, I was home-bound. Just to say – being ‘home-bound’ usually entails a +24-hour-long trip, so it does feel like a proper journey.
By the end of that journey (and as much as I’ve enjoyed my first term studying abroad) I was relieved to finally arrive at home for the holidays. Particularly because December is South African summer time!
Now, South Africa is a gorgeous country all year round, but boy does it show off during the summer months. I spent my three weeks of Christmas at the seaside and, for the most part, in the sunshine (which I had sorely missed in England!). Ooh, before I forget, a side-note to any Africans or warm-country people reading this: it might be wise to take some Vitamin D supplements if you are planning on studying in the UK for an extended period of time to make up for the difference in sun exposure – especially in the winter months.
After a holiday time enjoyed with family, friends, lots of food and beautiful nature, it was time to head back for term. I returned to Surrey refreshed, revived and, most importantly, tanned. What I really appreciated was the fact that the break reminded me why I wanted to study here in the first place. Speaking to people back home about everything I’ve been learning, the places I’ve been exploring and the new friends I’ve made, made me realise how lucky I am to be here. It’s inspired me to dive headfirst back into the work and to make a concerted effort to explore more of England this year (watch this space). I also need to remember to try get into nature at least once a week. I mean, there are hundreds of beautiful Surrey Hills walks right on my doorstep.
To be honest – even though the winter and summer festivities varied in temperature and traditions – the lessons learned in the spirit of Christmas and New Year are the same no matter on which side of the globe you find yourself. I was reminded to be grateful for family and friends (old and new) and aware of the gift of new experiences as well as the magic of human relationships.
A very happy 2018 to you all! 🙂
P.S. ‘Somerkersfees’ translates to “Summer Christmas” in Afrikaans. There is a beautiful Afrikaans Christmas carol with the same name and it begins with the words “Welcome, oh silent night of peace, under the Southern Cross”. It’s beautiful and it always makes me think of a home, sun-soaked Christmas. If you ever get a chance, go find it on Youtube (I’d suggest listening to the version with the choir).