Friday, December 08, 2006

Christmas in London, England

I've seen big cities before.

I've visited Toronto enough times for it not to be that exciting anymore (unless you're downtown for a hockey game), and been lucky enough to spend time in Calgary, Montreal, Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Halifax, Washington DC, Raleigh, Edmonton, Philadelphia, and New York City.

New York is the only city that even comes close to what London is. I'm not even sure how to explain what I mean - it could be something about the sheer size of these cities that turns the clock back to childhood so full-grown adults are left staring up at landmarks in wonder, only able to utter "whoa" as their wide-eyed companions whisper "ya, I know".

This time of year, there are once again hundreds of tourists everywhere. My neighbourhood is a tourist haven, so there are always at least a dozen people lugging suitcases and looking a little shell-shocked as they weave through the crowds with maps in their hands, toward their hotels. The shops are full of Christmas decorations and people looking for the perfect outfit for their Christmas parties, or that perfect gift for their loved ones.

The schools are full of really really excited children. For the first time in my life, I am responsible for an entire class of students at Christmastime. About half of the children in my class are Muslim, so I try to keep a nice balance with the Christmas stuff so they don't feel like there's something wrong with them for not celebrating this holiday. We're talking about Hindu celebrations in Religion right now, and I'm careful to mention that Eid is coming up for Muslims in January. This school seems to make a pretty big fuss over Christmas - which is great - but I do want all of these kids to be comfortable with who they are and what they believe.

Each class in the school has made Christmas decorations that are now hanging from the ceiling in the hall (where we meet for assemblies, etc). Myself and three other teachers spent an hour throwing balls of string over the rafters so we could haul decorated hula hoops up into the air (and it actually looks really good - i'll take pictures and post them next week). It was fun to work with them and laugh about motion sensors going off in the night as little pieces of tinsel and cotton batton rain down from the ceiling.

Today, I have to find Christmas cards for the students in my class. All of the teachers give cards to their students. The challenge I'm giving myself is to find some card that have generic snowmen and trees for my non-Christian children. That way they get cards too, but not about Jesus being born... I hope that extra effort makes a difference for them.

The little pageant that the kids are putting on next week is so completely adorable that I wish I had a video camera to post it. They sing all sorts of British carols that I've never heard, and the acting parts are incredibly cute. One of the most challenging kids in my class, R, is the innkeeper.

2 weeks ago...

"Miss, am I the innkeeper?"

"Yes, R"


**repeat 5 more times**

"Um, Miss?"

"Yes, R"

"What's an innkeeper?"

I am not exaggerating this at all - it was like something out of a cheesy comedy. He looked up at me with the most sincere expression of confusion that I knew he wasn't being silly. When I explained to him what he would be doing, his face lit up and he is still walking around with his little chest puffed up with pride.

My days are so busy that time is just flying by. In less than 2 weeks Jeremy will be back in London with me, and we'll be enjoying a two-week break together (hopefully things will be sorted out with his visa by then as well).

Since our 5-foot tree is currently living underneath Jeremy's grandparent's place, I have been hunting for a small one for our flat here. Finally the Whitely's (little mall around the corner) Marks & Spencer came to my rescue.

I went in for some Sangria and crab pate (a favourite treat for myself and Eve - and a lot less expensive than you'd think), and stopped at the front entrance in surprise. There were rows of LIVE miniature evergreen trees in green pots, with little bows on the top. The price tag (only 10 pounds) sold me. I wanted some live plants for our place and after the holidays we'll still have our little tree.

Last week, I went up to Eve's flat to watch Love Actually (was on telly) and I was amazed at how perfectly that movie demonstrates British life. People who know each other, all living different lives, but all connected in various ways. The "Christmas #1" actually happens here too - although nobody is as funny as Billy Mac (from the movie). There are carol singers and lights everywhere, and children queuing up to see Father Christmas - just this excitment and anticipation in the air. At the beginning of one of the segments of the movie, there is a close-up of a huge Christmas tree inside a building with white curved walls. The camera moves down the tree to a small door that a pair of people walk out of - right out of the tree.

I shouted "Oh my god!!! That's Whitely's!"

Yep, the place where I bought our little tree. It was so cool to see a place I knew that well (and that close to where we live) in one of my favourite movies...

Back in our little place, with the lights, tree, Christmas cards from home, candles, and little container of cookies from my mother, things are just a bit cozier. After I return home from school, I light my candles and plug in the lights for the tree, and sit with some music (and often a glass of wine) to unwind. It's not the same as meeting with my friends back home, or looking forward to the Christmas traditions with our families, but at least I'll be able to say that I'm getting some joy out of my favourite holiday.

Now all I need is to get through the craziness of being a teacher at Christmas - and wait for Jeremy to come back home.

I don't want a lot for Christmas,
there is just one thing I need.
I don't care about the presents,
underneath the Christmas tree.
I just want you for my own,
more than you could ever know.
Make my wish come true -
All I want for Christmas is you...


  • At 5:02 PM, Blogger Beechball * said…

    Awwww, anything anyone writes that obviously a good thing about Christmas just makes my face light up!!! I am happy you're managing well and going with the flow as best ya can! It's amazing that you've had this wonderful opportunity presented to you that allows you to celebrate Christmas in London, England - wow... it blows my mind. Enjoy every second hun!!! Merry Christmas!

  • At 9:22 AM, Blogger Laura Coubrough said…

    I love that song.
    I was just listening to it yesterday.
    I'm glad you're doing so well Mel.

  • At 12:28 PM, Blogger Suldog said…


    You are obviously making the best of your holidays, all things considered. Good for you! I love the way you write about Christmas.

    I once bought a small tree like the one you have, when MY WIFE and I were first dating. It was for her apartment and I gave her a few trifles to put on it for decoration. I'm the least succesful gardener in the world, though, and I inadvertently killed the little tree. I assumed it needed sun, so I put it out on her fire escape before we went out for the day. Came back and it had rairly roasted to a brown hue.

    Not a very cheery story, that. Sorry! However, we turned out OK as a couple and had a swell Christmas anyway. The point (as if I had one) is don't overexpose your little tree.


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