By Winnie Tsuma

14 January 2021 - 12:00

Winnie and the Christmas tree outside Bath Abbey.

Chevening scholar, Winnie, is a Public Policy student at the University of Bristol. In this blog she shares the highs and lows of her first Christmas away from home. Her positive outlook enabled her to adjust and thrive and she soon appreciated the illuminated streets and Christmas trees that surrounded her. Read about her UK Christmas experience below. 

In Kenya, over the Christmas period cities become deserted as people travel to their rural homes to celebrate with their loved ones. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, houses and churches are decorated with colourful balloons, paper ribbons, flowers and green leaves. On Christmas day, food is normally at the top of the agenda and people toil away to prepare some of the most popular meals for Christmas, which include Biriani and Nyama Choma (barbequed goat/cow meat). Children also get to wear their finest clothes, purchased specifically for that day and families have special outings. This is a typical Kenyan Christmas – the kind that I am used to. 

As an international student studying in the UK, this year things were different. I chose to stay for the holidays as this was more practical and a cheaper option, considering the expensive flights, Covid-19 international travel restrictions, and most importantly, the numerous assignments that were due in January. This meant that I would experience Christmas away from my family for the first time in my life – and this Christmas took place during a year like no other. 

It was an experience that was filled with mixed emotions. I had moments when I felt sad and broke down into tears, especially after talking to my children as I felt like I was missing out on Christmas activities with them. Additionally, the plans that I had made with various friends to meet in London had to be put on hold due to changes in restrictions. However, I was ready to make the most of my time by experiencing Christmas in the UK in the best way I could, despite the circumstances.

The festive season in the UK is an amazing time, although extremely cold and with darkness engulfing the skies as early as 4.00pm. I observed a number of festive traditions in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The streets were illuminated by beautiful and artistic lights which always left me in awe. It was also particularly interesting to note how big of a deal Christmas trees were. All the houses in my neighbourhood had glistening Christmas trees deliberately placed by the windows for passersby like myself to marvel at. In Kenya, younger generations have adopted this culture of Christmas trees but I grew up in a household where it really did not matter, and it was the same for other households around. As an adult, I was also not interested in putting them up in my house. Now though, it is a tradition that I have gladly embraced!

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Christmas lights in Bristol and Winne's Sunday roast.
Winnie at the iconic Pulteney Bridge in Bath.

Before restrictions changed, I was also able to visit the city of Bath. Bath is such a beautiful place, which gave me a much-needed change of scenery and refreshed my mind, so I was ready to embark on my university assignments.

I took the opportunity over the Christmas period to speak to classmates and reflect on what we had learnt so far and learn about each other’s cultures. Our classmate from the UK also gave us gifts – a Christmas tradition we do not really have in my own country. This gesture made me feel appreciated in this faraway land, particularly being away from family. I also got to try the popular British dish, a Sunday roast which included a Yorkshire pudding! 

If there is something the Covid-19 pandemic has taught me, it is to be able to adjust and thrive even when things do not go as planned. I may have wanted to be home for Christmas but I could not be, and even so, I was still able to make the best of it and enjoyed the holiday with friends – which is essentially what Christmas is about. Whatever this holiday season may have looked like for you, I hope you did enjoy it. 

I wish you a happier, safer and more hopeful 2021!