My first Christmas celebration in was a modest and quiet gathering in Barnsley, a small town in South Yorkshire – somewhere you would think of when listening to Adele’s Hello.

It was December 2009. I spent the holiday with a cousin of mine and her family. At the time, I was barely used to the cold of a northern winter. In the three months up to that point, I was always in thick layers of clothes wherever I go, including going to bed. Born and bred in tropical Vietnam, English winter was alien to me. The most challenging part though was the darkness. Winter days were so short, and when it got completely dark around 4 pm I always felt the urge to curl up in bed and think of a warmer home where my family and loved ones were. Loneliness caught up with me soon as the light was out.

So I took up my cousin’s invitation without a second thought and traveled down to Barnsley from Newcastle in the Xmas break of my master. On Christmas day, her husband, an English man, roasted a beef joint and lots of vegetables. It was my first ever roast dinner. I have had many of those since, some close to extravagance, but I never forget that first one. It’s just like how people make a big fuss about first love. You might move on, but you never forget.

Barnsley was however not the kind of big towns where shop windows were filled with beautiful decorations and mansions went over the top with lights. Bus service rarely operated over the holiday and taxi fares were simply too dear for us to take a trip to somewhere with more going on. It seemed hard to keep the morale up when the juicy taste of the roasted beef started to fade. The days got shorter, the wind felt colder and the gathering wasn’t as homely as one hoped for.

I remember all the Christmases that came after Barnsley. I was up and down everywhere from a quiet, snow-capped village in the Lake District of England to bustling Bangkok of tropical Thailand. Much has happened in the last six years. I am no longer in contact with my cousin or few other people with whom I have spent the sacred holiday. A hint of sadness came each time I was reminded of that fact. Life moves on, sometimes for the worse, though mostly for the better as one would hope.

I am to England for another Xmas. I still find its winter too cold, regardless of all the talks about how mild it is this year. I still struggle with how quickly it gets dark outside. But I am sure this is gonna be a good one.


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