I can picture the scene clearly in my mind’s eye: me, stuffed to bursting point with food that I’ve eaten merely because it was placed in front of me. (And because there was nothing to eat in the house that wasn’t curried herring, bacon, pork paté, fried potatoes or any of the many other calorific Danish Christmas treats that I look forward to eating all year, but start to get pretty annoyed with after a whole week of eating almost nothing else.) Sitting on the sofa in front of the television, trying to avoid looking at the platters of chocolate, Christmas cookies and dried figs that take up most of the room on the coffee table. Pretending I can’t see or hear my Dad struggling up the stairs with a tray laden with tea, coffee, and, low-and-behold, fresh pastries from the bakery across the street. “Just as an extra Christmas treat”, he explains, looking around with a happy smile on his face. After which he starts handing round cups and plates, serving me a massive chocolate-covered explosion of cream disguised as a pastry, that he assures me he has picked out just for me, knowing it to be my favourite. Impossible to say no to, of course.
On top of the compulsory food-orgies, Christmas inevitably means spending too much time indoors with my family and the exasperating beast of a Newfoundland dog. She is cute for the first few hours of being home, but who quickly turns into the essence of irritation with her constant demands for attention, exerted most explicitly by her leaning against my leg until it goes numb, and I’m forced to acknowledge her presence with a pat or a scratch. And if the dog is a nuisance, then she is of course nothing compared my parents, who, understandably, are happy to have their long lost overseas-studying daughter home for Christmas.
Once the pleasure in the daughter-parent reunion has worn off, they soon become annoying with their relentless questions about what I’m doing, what my plans are for the day, the week, the future. Why I’m not dressed yet, why I’m watching Love Actually again (didn’t I watch it last Christmas?)… and so on.
Oh yes. I can almost picture myself sitting there, on the sofa, surrounded by food, a smelly dog and overly inquisitive parents, wishing myself back in my own little flat in my university-city. Where I’m the sole person in charge of filling the fridge, and I don’t have any cumbersome canine or parent-obligations to attend to. Christmas on my own terms.
Well, that’s what I got last year.
I’m doing a degree in English literature and linguistics and spent a year on exchange at McGill University in Montreal from 2012-13. Being Danish, I’m used to the idea of studying far from home, so I figured I’d make my experience in Montreal extra special by not returning to Denmark, even for Christmas, as I normally do. The decision was surprisingly easy to make in June when I booked my one-way ticket to Montreal. I announced it to my parents as if I were telling them about a new pair of jeans I’d just bought, as casually as if celebrating Christmas away from them, on the other side of the Atlantic, was nothing very noteworthy at all.
So off I flew in August, the first few months at McGill went surprisingly fast, and before I knew it, it was the middle of November. Christmas was just round the corner, and I hadn’t a clue how to celebrate it. A few of my other exchange-friends were going home for Christmas, but rather more were staying in Montreal; some had made elaborate plans, and rented a big chalet outside of the city. Another had been invited to celebrate Christmas with a Canadian friend and her family. I knew someone who went to New York, and yet another friend had planned to celebrate it with some classmates from their own country.
All through the exam-period, and the weeks leading up to it, I didn’t give much thought as to how I would spend the evening. The closer the exams came to being over, the more I noticed how people at the library were talking about their trips home, the friends and family they would meet with, the Christmas traditions they were looking forward to repeating; the more difficult it became for me to envision a Christmas Eve that was not spent in my parents’ house.
But the decision had been made, and I decided to make the best of the rare opportunity I had. So what did I do? I stocked up on ready-made Indian dishes, bought myself a large package of tortillas (I was going for naan-bread, but couldn’t find any), made sure I had enough chocolate, apples and books to last me at least a week, and spent four days hardly leaving my flat. Watching TV series, reading for pleasure (a rare joy for an English literature student), eating chocolate and Indian food at odd hours of the day. And despite watching Love Actually a few (four) times, and Skyping my family back home, there was nothing in the least Christmasy about my Christmas.
Regardless of the fact that this experience, on the whole, actually turned out to be rather enjoyable, there is no doubt in my mind as to where I am celebrating the holiday season this year: Danish food orgies, excited parents, smelly dog and abnormally high levels of annoyance with all three await!