It’s the most wonderful time of the year here in London! Today we had a first snowfall - just flurries, but still very exciting. Something about the holidays here seems so magical to me. Because the UK hardly celebrates Halloween or Thanksgiving, Christmas gets over two months of recognition; but that didn’t stop us from carving pumpkins, watching scary movies, or having our own ‘friends-giving.’ If anything, there were so many opportunities for international students to take advantage of during this festive season! Celebrating these holidays was a really fun way to share our American culture and traditions while abroad, in addition to experiencing European alternatives.
The amazing thing about living with other international students is the cultural knowledge gleaned through storytelling and shared experiences. Had I not asked, I would have taken for granted that someone may never have carved a pumpkin before! So, naturally, we carved pumpkins. Our local supermarket was selling them cheap, so we bought a few and got to work. I even picked up an extra to make pumpkin pie from scratch - an idea I had after discovering it’s almost impossible to find pumpkin puree in the grocery store. Goldsmiths University and a few local pubs also had some spooky activities on for students: karaoke night, 90s-themed costume party, scary movie night, and more. Thus was our Halloween!
Even less visible than Halloween in the UK is Thanksgiving. I attribute the presence of Thanksgiving to the Goldsmiths study abroad coordinators who are constantly planning events for us students. On Thanksgiving day, The Rose Pub (per request of Goldsmiths) fixed an as-close-to-traditional-as-possible turkey dinner, open to all international students. There were mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, veggies, everything. Then the evening was topped off with homemade pumpkin pie. It was beautiful. Additionally, I took part in celebrating ‘friends-giving’ - the alternative to a traditional, family Thanksgiving dinner. This was a great way to bond with friends and flatmates, sharing in a potluck-style dinner, each bringing their own dish to contribute. I made mashed potatoes.
Finally, perhaps my favorite holiday, Christmas! One thing I love about London is how over-the-top Christmas is showcased. On October 30th, pumpkins vanished from stores to be replaced by Christmas decorations. The whole city becomes transformed with lights, music, and spirit. Big streets like Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus grow congested with shoppers. Hyde Park becomes a Winter Wonderland, complete with ice-skating, mulled wine, hot chocolate, a Christmas market, rides and more! Aside from being a bit crowded, the vibe was amazing - everyone eating and drinking, singing and dancing, freezing out in the cold in the spirit of Christmas. But that is expected of the holidays. And, here, it is much more a multi-cultural congregation or sight-seers. Leicester Square and Covent Garden are a bit more low-key, but just as exciting in my opinion. These are much more integrated areas of the city which is very cute if you want to have a stroll, do some shopping, or get a pizza to end the night.
For me, this autumn semester has been mostly defined by its holidays. October, November, and now December seem to have taken on their respective celebrations as the defining characteristic of that month. Through preparing for, celebrating, and reminiscing over these traditions, I have a good sense of time passing and mapping my overall experience in the UK. Conclusively, I don’t think this semester has gone by too quickly or slowly; instead, rather steadily, it has progressed towards its timely end. With only two weeks left, I hope to make the most of my time in London before flying home for the holidays.