It wasn’t until I came to live in the United Kingdom that I understood what it’s like to live for Christmas. Yes, in Portugal there are lights on the main streets, shops everywhere decorate for Santa and Codfish is bought in tones (yes, CODFISH).
But somehow the mood is different. We have the same movies, some of the same songs (and some we just stole and translated) but the season goes by in a completely different way. From the 1st November until the 31st December it seems like this country stops to purchase ugly Christmas jumpers and book Christmas night outs with abandon, not to mention the presents.
According to data from Finder.com, Brits are expected to spend 26 billion pounds this year during Christmas time. That’s an average of £512.85 per person on this island we call home.
In the southern side of Europe, Portugal is expected to spend an average of £213.95 per person.
Now there are many reasons for these differences, explained by average purchasing power and average minimum wage and, of course, population size. But, one way or another Christmas feels different here and I can feel it.
Perhaps it’s just not just that I spend more money than I used to, or that I get better and more gifts than back there. It’s also that living as an adult here, I feel free to have a Christmas that suits me.
Back home, I would inevitably be forced to come back and spend time with my family. And perhaps saying forced seems harsh, but it was what I felt like. Most of the Christmas I remember back home involved lots of good food, cheer and Disney movies but also being shushed, ignored, forced to look at my plate while intrusive questions were asked.
And I’m not the only one. One my favourite times to go out (other than you know, every weekend) is Christmas Day. On Christmas Day, late at night at one of the many clubs in Glasgow, all conversations seem to revolve around:
“My auntie Mary asked me again when I’m getting a boyfriend, like hello, I’m gay! ”;
“Philippa recommended I stayed away from the pigs and blankets as I was a little rounder than last year”,
“My Dad told me, as soon as I walked in, my coat was ugly”.
Now, if you have an amazingly perfect Tesco TV ad like Christmas, where everyone sits around the piano and belts out Christmas songs, I’m so happy for you. But in truth, it seems like most of us seem obliged to return home for Christmas even when we know we will be emotionally, physically and economically drained.
As an adult, I finally get to decide how to spend the season. In my first year in the UK, I spent a nice day eating Chinese food with my Jewish friends, the next one I spend listening to David Bowie, drinking large amounts of Gin and eating ready meals with my friend Jack.
All of these days were so peaceful, they made me feel good about myself. They made me feel like I was at home and that is the best festive season I can hope for. Because it’s about being able to be myself surrounded by people that treat me like an equal.