As a first generation immigrant, I have an unusual relationship with Christmas.
My experience of the Christmas period is a month-long build up to a day that never happens; a month where everybody is a little happier than usual because they all have something to look forward to, culminating in a day that is marked by nothing other than empty streets.
Growing up, there was the dichotomy between school and home. The run-up was similar on the surface: I always looked forward to putting up decorations in our form room, and handing out cards in the last week. At home, we would still decorate by putting up the token small Christmas tree in our living room and have a fun twenty minutes decorating it – but that was as far as the spirit of Christmas reached. Here was the true difference between December at school and December at home: at school, there was a real change in energy that accompanied the decorations as people got excited for the holidays and for Christmas. At home, life went on as normal and the few days we all had as a break were simply a happy occurrence, some well-needed days off to spend with my parents and my brother.
My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas – not because we actively avoid it, but because it has no significance to us.
Before they moved to England, my parents grew up and lived in Turkey, a country where their main childhood celebrations were Eid and the New Year. Celebrations of this kind are about family, and since all members of my extended family live in Turkey, I celebrate with them during Eid, and not during Christmas. Due to the constraints imposed by term dates, we rarely travelled back to Turkey for Eid. Instead, we celebrated properly in Istanbul during the rare coincidences when school holidays lined up with Turkish national holidays.
Christmas to me was always fun but never meant anything – much like New Year for most people, I suppose.
However, I always felt a longing for the experience my British friends had of Christmas Day: I heard stories of houses bustling with people (some of whom you hadn’t seen since the year before), tables overflowing with food, an expectation to relax and watch comforting films and listen to cheesy music.
One year I decided that I wanted to make it as special in my home as the scenes I’d heard and since I was old enough to do so, I organised the whole day. For all my excitement, I still didn’t really know what Christmas involved: the usual order of events for a start. So great was my ignorance that I had to ask one of my friends how their Christmas Day usually panned out.
As I’d hoped, celebrating Christmas ‘properly’ was fun and it was nice to do something different.
Nonetheless, it only held some emotional significance for my brother and myself and not for the rest of our family. Even with our newfound efforts, Christmas Day was not going to be special in and of itself.
When I first arrived at university, I did not realise the importance that Bridgemas would hold for me. The 25th November has a special place in my heart. It is after all the one day when my friends and I spend find ourselves scrambling around our dorm trying to find a way to feed fifteen people with four hobs and no oven. It was the day of my first year when, upon paying us a visit, the porters found us carrying a table from the kitchen on one floor to the kitchen on another, in our attempt to make enough space to seat everybody. It was the day in second year when fate aligned and a series of bewildering events led to some of the most ridiculous and elaborate Secret Santa gifts. It was the day in third year when my whole Cambridge family reunited for the first time in what felt like forever, after being separated by accommodation and busy schedules.
Every year, it is the day I look forward to the most, even more than the Bridgemas formal, and far more than the 25th December. In first year, it cemented in my mind that the people around me were truly my second family. Now, in third year, it has offered me a nostalgic look back to how far we have come together.