From what I’ve missed so far, I was expecting to feel a bit off all day, walking around with a void that’s hard to put into words. Let’s face it, holidays are points to mark the year by, to track the progression from day to day, an often much-needed break from the routine of our normal lives. But when you’re removed from the environment you normally celebrate holidays in, it takes away from much of the significance and leaves you with a day that you know should be different but feels weirdly just the same. If holidays are truly “holy days,” being away takes any sense of reverence right out of them.
For Thanksgiving in London, my flatmate Kim and I took the day off and did what we could to celebrate a holiday that our current country of residence didn’t observe and really knew nothing about. That meant an American Expat service in St. Paul’s (remembering Thanksgiving + seeing the cathedral for free = score! I love efficiency.) and cooking our version of the feast our moms would normally make, even trekking to Selfridges to pay four pounds for a single can of Libby’s pumpkin puree. But despite every attempt, it still didn’t feel right. We still got tears in our eyes while Skyping home, as we realized the most important ingredient for the day couldn’t be found in any designer department store anywhere the city – our families.
Christmas was another story altogether. After my experience with Thanksgiving, I knew I was asking to be tortured if I attempted to spend Christmas in my London flat as well. So with several of my New Zealand friends going on a ski trip to the French Alps over Christmas, I knew I had to go. It would be Christmas with the Kiwis for me. Christmas Eve found us in our room feeling out of it with nothing to do, so we put the self-timer function on my camera to good use and took a series of alarmingly disturbing group shots. The next day was worse – without a Christmas tree and not a properly-wrapped present in sight. After the strange combination of an outdoor BBQ in zero-degree Celsius weather, we bought drinks and snacks from the supermarket downstairs and spent the rest of the night playing “Kings and Assholes” and talking smack.
Now, all that is not to say that Mother’s Day really ranks at the top of the list like Christmas may, but more to establish a recent pattern of oddly-spent holidays, and that I’d come to expect the same from today. However, after a special service at church – which featured a competition for moms including cake-decorating and laundry-folding races – I was kindly invited over to Arron’s family’s house for a late lunch. There was a lot to love about the day – a savory meal that left me full and one that I didn’t need to tell myself to save the rest for tomorrow; a warm home instead of the icebox I call my room; and even a chance to play their piano, a luxury I paid twelve pounds an hour for in London.
But the thing I was most grateful for was actually feeling like a part of their family. After dessert was served, I took my bowl of deliciousness and sat on a ledge beneath their fireplace. It’s just something I do and am known for at home – if I have to choose between sitting on the floor in front of the fire or a spot on the couch across the room, the fire wins, hands down, every time. But just as I sat down today to a bite of blackboy peaches pie, Arron snapped at me, saying, “You can’t sit there, Candy!” Most of his family said, “Aww, Arron, be nice,” but his dad – known as Bloody Rob to many – said, “She’ll be alright, she’s family now.”
And that made the day for me. If, as I have come to believe, holidays are about family – beneath the layers of hype, commercialism, and traditions – maybe this one wouldn’t be so bad. There was a mom and dad, who rolled their eyes every time Arron gave me a hard time, i.e. all the time. There was Nana Carol and Papa, who’s turning ninety this October and is known for having a way with the ladies. I, on the other hand, know him for his adorable penchant of telling the same stories every time you see him, as I could probably tell you myself about the time he and his wife won a trip from Cadbury’s to the 2000 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. There are brothers and sisters and sibling-bickering and banter. There are photo albums and scrapbooks and retelling old stories and memories. There is sitting around the TV in the stupor of post-meal euphoria. There is familiarity, something I didn’t have in London. And as far as I may feel from home at times, I’m still near a home – something that is a welcome balance to the constant unknowns of this adventure.