Welcoming the end-of-year holiday season, we asked Chevening Alumni to tell their Throwback Christmas story, and here are two of them!
Duhita Primandhira / 2018-2019 LSE
Around this time last year, I was sitting in the library when I decided to apply for a host family experience over Christmas. I had no idea what it would be like, but it was in a way provided from Chevening. I almost forgot about it when an invitation came in for a homestay with a family of four. I wasn’t hooked at first, thinking I’d want to enjoy St. Paul’s Cathedral Christmas mass choir instead on Christmas eve. But being away from home, I realised how nice it will be to share a warm Christmas meal with family. It gives the possibility of feeling at home.
After around an hour train ride, I arrived in a beautiful farmhouse. The right english is farm, not ranch, the Father corrected me the first minute I arrived. My host is kind of artsy and she arranged her house with a bit of quirkiness. I secretly wished I was here over summer when the house is beautifully covered in all different flowers of roses, violets and the ones I couldn’t even tell. On the way over, I noticed most of the houses around this countryside has that pentagon or hexagonal shape at one corner of the house. They called it ‘conservatory’, like the ones you have in planetarium to look up for the stars. Here, you can do it while cuddling under a blanket with hot chocolate by the fire.
She decided later that night that we were, in fact, going to the church. Methodist Church stroke such different to that of traditional hierarchical Christian church, and the priest was a woman. There was only 20 of us, if not less; thus, it became a very intimate Christmas eve masw. When we got home around midnight, We stayed by the fire, sipping hot chocolate and listening to them talking about their new routine: city angels.
That term was totally unfamiliar to me. City Angels, what does that even mean? It turned out to be a nationwide project under the Church Association. Relying on volunteers, they would march in late evenings on Fridays and Saturdays, looking after people who go out drinking. Some nights are quiet; four hours would be spent in their van, offering free refreshments or hot chocolate to sober up. On rougher nights, she had to sent someone home in her car, not knowing exactly where he lived. Earlier model of this volunteering was called ‘Street Angels’. She was looking forward for the next shift on New Year’s Eve. It will be crazy, her daughter said between her fifth vodka-tonic. It is the only no-carbohydrate drink, she argued. Of course, there is water but it is a too mainstreamed drink. Having city angels seemed to have made a big difference in the neighbourhood. There has been less fight and chaos in the streets.
Christmas day came early to my door. For a minute, I was Louisa Clark with the black and yellow striped, not bumblebee tights, sock. It was filled with all female products from the lipbalm I needed and coconut hand cream that has been my absolute favourite. Father Christmas came last night for you, she said smiling ear to ear. Santa is known as many different things. Father Christmas, Santa Claus in the States and St. Nick in the Netherlands. His postman must be so confused!
Soon Paul and Wendy were up and we head of to the beach. Living by the sea makes people appreciate long walks more than in the city. Life is not rushed. We walked pass dozens of teenagers decided to swim in the sea at 11 AM and 3ºC, shouting this is our annual tradition! and few minutes after, cold! cold! cold! We were laughing with them strangers. All different kind of dogs were running around, into the water and outside tossing the wet sands. Expensive cottages stood tall by the coastal line; Paul occasionally peeked in to see if anyone is coming back for Christmas. All the windows around here are always so crystal clear, like they are intentionally showing off their living rooms full of Christmas ornaments.
Present time makes it even more festive. Good thing I brought some souvenir from home! Wendy was of course, ambitious. The other seemed to enjoy her excitement but keep theirs fairly low. A bottle of no-carbohydrate vodka and new fluffy slippers were obviously the best presents for their daughter. For her son, Wendy ordered a tea cover in a form of sheep. My favourite has to be a rubber duck with Trump’s face (can you spot it on the floor?). I should have stolen that.
Jane Aileen / 2014-2015 University of Essex
Selama menjalani masa studi sebagai penerima beasiswa Chevening 2014-2015 saya berkesempatan merasakan Natal dan Tahun Baru di Inggris. Walaupun kota tempat saya studi di Colchester, bagian tenggara Inggris, saya menghabiskan Natal dengan menginap di tempat tinggal teman seangkatan saya di Charlton, London. Teman saya ini indekost di rumah keluarga Inggris. Dengan baik hati teman saya, Dewi Safitri mengajak saya menginap beberapa malam disana sekaligus meminta ijin kepada tuan rumahnya agar saya bisa ikut makan malam Natal bersama mereka.
Pagi hari Natal saya ke gereja di dekat rumahnya, untungnya jarak ke gereja Katolik bisa ditempuh dengan berjalan kaki. Saya menggunakan kata ‘untungnya’ karena kebanyakan gereja di Inggris adalah gereja Anglikan, yang berbeda sedikit dengan Katolik Roma yang saya anut. Saya terlambat mengikuti misa, bahkan ketika tiba diluar gereja sempat menyangka salah jam. Ternyata di dalam tidak penuh, banyak tempat kosong. Ini cukup mengejutkan untuk saya karena di Indonesia misa Natal biasanya orang-orang datang 1-2 jam sebelum misa agar bisa dapat duduk di dalam gereja. Selain itu misa Natal disana tetap tepat waktu, tidak lebih panjang sebagaimana di Indonesia. Hiasan Natal juga tidak sesemarak di Indonesia. Namun tetap saja berada di Gedung gereja memberi rasa Natal yang lebih, karena misa di kampus saya biasanya di ruangan yang digunakan bergantian antar semua agama dan kepercayaan yang berbentuk seperti kelas.
Setelah dari gereja, malamnya saya bergabung acara makan bersama keluarga dimana teman saya tinggal. Keluarga Tobin sangat baik hati memberi saya tempat duduk di meja mereka. Hal ini cukup intim mengingat hanya keluarga dekat yang bergabung disana. Mereka bahkan memasakkan ayam panggang halal khusus untuk teman saya yang Muslim. Saya merasakan menu khas Natal keluarga Inggris: “roasted chicken” ala Inggris lengkap dengan sayuran panggang dan gravy, saus coklat gurih; hidangan sayuran brusselsprout – ini seperti kubis mini; Christmas pudding untuk hidangan penutup.
Setelah makanan selesai disantap, kami membuka Christmas crackers yang sudah diletakkan di meja kami masing-masing (bentuknya kado yang dibungkus seperti permen). Cara membukanya unik, setiap orang menyilangkan tangan sembari memegang Christmas crackers-nya di satu sisi, sisi lainnya dipegang oleh orang sebelahnya lalu kemudian sama-sama menariknya sampai terbuka. Di dalamnya ada tebak-tebakan natal untuk saling ditanyakan, balon untuk ditiup dan dibentuk hewan, dan mainan Natal.
Saya akan terus mengingat pengalaman Natal saya di Inggris, sebagai bagian dari seluruh perjalanan studi saya selama menjadi penerima beasiswa Chevening.