Have you ever been invited to a Christmas dinner and thought, “Why am I here?”. Well, I have.
While I was in the United Kingdom, my friend had somehow become good friends with an elderly lady who sat next to her on the train. She was a free-spirited lady with an outgoing personality and open-minded. She quickly became close with my friend as she was always keen to meet new people. During their discussions, my friend would often mention her best friend from university. Hence, I was later invited to one of their meetings.
The first time I met her, I could tell she had a very intriguing personality that attracted others. She was outspoken and intelligent. Her stories were always so exciting to hear and an excellent way to learn new things. You could tell she was a well-travelled, educated, and that made her even more amazing.
As my final year in the UK approached, this inspiring woman invited both my friend and me to a Christmas dinner at her friends’ house. I grew up in a Christian family. Therefore, even though I was in a different country, certain customs were similar to my culture’s. But for my friend, a Christmas dinner was something entirely new. Coming from a Chinese background, for her Christmas were only just another western tradition that was unfamiliar and unknown.
Usually, Christmas is meant to be spent with family as it’s the best time to reflect, show gratitude, and wish for further prosperity, love, and happiness. But going at a Christmas dinner with people I barely know unexpectedly felt content and thankful.
Firstly, I have to say that the couple was living in a little town called Knaresborough in North Yorkshire and it was magnificent. I often find it that smaller towns or little villages are the best destinations to explore and appreciate British architecture and lifestyle. So before going for the Christmas dinner, we had the chance to have a stroll around the town and, of course, visit the famous Viaduct. One of the best viewpoints in the area.
After exploring Knaresborough, we were welcomed by a cosy little house that had its own story of three hundred years. I often like the British houses, especially those in towns and in the countryside as they are compact, cosy, and just the perfect size for a small family. I grew up in a society that everybody loves large houses with unnecessary extra rooms. The enormous, authoritarian look of the homes often makes them seem cold hence I came to dislike them. I prefer smaller houses, so the British style has become my new favourite.
Similarly, with the cosy little house, our hosts were very welcoming and friendly with big smiles. Furthermore, I loved being a witness to the strong bond of friendship between these three people who’ve known each other for decades. Friends usually are like-minded. Thus, I was thrilled to listen to all of their stories. It’s always interesting to hear other perspectives on different subjects like art, lifestyle, or even politics. I could tell all three of them had prosperous and fulfilled lives with all kinds of adventures. I certainly felt that I learned a lot just from listening to their life stories.
Moreover, as this was a Christmas dinner, we had the traditional meal of the day, which is turkey in gravy with veggies and Yorkshire pudding. Dinner was delicious, but the most surprising and funny tradition was the crackers. Crackers are a paper tube that you pull, and with a “pop,” you receive a small gift and a paper crown, which you must wear because, on Christmas day, everyone is a king. I absolutely love this tradition. It was something completely new, even to me.
Later, with great jazzy and classic British music as background and good wine, we discussed all kinds of topics from cultures, languages, history to our studies and dreams. It was a fantastic Christmas dinner that I’ll always remember. Even though we were strangers and from very different backgrounds, the message of Christmas, which is love and understanding, was clearly resonating in our hearts. We had a wonderful time with good laughs and a new story to tell.
During my last Christmas in the UK, I realised that sometimes you find power from strangers and that strangers can easily be your family. Additionally, at dinner, there were five of us, and among us, we had three different religions. So precisely, Christmas should not be about religion but about acceptance, love, understanding, and happiness. I will always be thankful to these three amazing elderly people who become another teacher in my life.