The Bittersweet Build-Up to Christmas Abroad
Week 10 is finally drawing to a close for the lucky Warwick students, and with the end of term comes the joy and excitement of Christmas. Meanwhile, 1600 miles away, I am still two weeks away from my flight back to the UK and trying to find ways to feel festive despite being so far from home.
Rome is beautiful at Christmas. All the shops are covered with stelle di natale and nativity scenes and the supermarkets have literal piles of panetonne and nougat (torrone) in as many flavours as you can imagine. Church bells permeate the air and although there’s not a hint of snow to be seen, there is still a chill breeze to remind you that December is here.
Christmas hadn’t really been on my mind much in November. In fact, I saw it as something altogether separate from Italy, something that was only allowed to start for me when my plane hit the tarmac at Bristol airport. This attitude was swiftly wrenched from me when, in the last week of November, I got off the bus after my lectures and turned onto my street to discover it had been decked out in Christmas lights.
Things like the lights on my street, the Christmas tree the portiere has put in our hallway and the simple (or not-so-simple) activity of Christmas shopping has a real bittersweet tang to it. I have been lucky in Italy in the sense that I have often been too busy or too engrossed in museums, lectures and culture to feel homesick, but this blast of Christmas has been the biggest test so far.
Don’t get me wrong, 98% of the time I’m absolutely fine, but in the last few weeks there have been little things that bring a lump to my throat. For example, buying Christmas decorations in the garden centre is something I usually do with my family in England, so when the Italian family I have grown close to took me to do the same thing here it was an oddly nostalgic feeling. Likewise, I was caught with a tear in my eye at the supermarket when ‘Feed the World’ interrupted the usual Italian pop songs.
It’s also difficult watching everyone back home get ready for the festivities. This week I watched my friends at Warwick do our annual Christmas dinner via Instagram and Snapchat, an event that for the past two years has been a highlight of my uni experience. This was strangely emotional for me, and although it was great to see them enjoying themselves, I felt quite resentful that I wasn’t there with them.
However, I have the fortune to be able to experience two Christmas cultures this year, and for that I am grateful. It’s really special to see the way other countries do Christmas, and now that I’ve been welcomed into a real Italian family I am lucky to be able to really take part. As much as I am looking forward to returning home for the holidays, part of the joy will be in telling my family about all how the Italians celebrate and all the wonderful traditions they have here.