As you get older, the magic of Christmas is gradually replaced with insurmountable stress over the holiday season. The sheer exhilaration of putting up the tree with mom and dad turns into hours of untangling light strings and testing them only to find that they did not survive the year in storage; writing to Santa to ask for that one special gift has turned into shopping all December to find that one perfect gift for everyone on your list; the simple pleasure of baking cookies with grandmom has turned into mad cookie exchanges at work and, oh look, you just ran out of butter. On top of that, you still have the normal stresses of life buzzing about you, deadlines and meetings. Adults are amazing at not letting it show to kids, or maybe I was just a very unobservant child.
This year I have decided to try something different, partly because I am in graduate school, partly because I’m in a new country, and partly because I’m tired of not feeling Christmassy. For more on feeling Christmassy have a watch:
Anyway, I have decided to keep it simple this year for Christmas. I’m not going to go all out with decorating my little dorm room (I have a few reindeer ornaments scattered about and those make me happy enough), I won’t be planning any tactical sweeps of the town for the perfect presents for everyone (if I come across something I know someone will like, I’ll pluck it up), and oddly enough, there are these amazing places scattered about that actually sell pre-made cookies, biscuits if your English, and cakes (they are called bakeries, seriously check them out).
What I have decided to do though is to participate in a few Christmas events while I’m here. The first opportunity presented itself on the day I arrived back in Durham from my weekend with the Doctor. The Durham City Christmas Light Switch On was an all-day event leading up to the big moment when Market Square would shine in a blaze of LED twinkle lights. Charlotte and I had decided to go a week or so before hand, but I will admit, as I struggled up the final hill with my heavy suitcase and my bags laden with the spoils of convention heaven I was in no mood to walk thirty minutes back the way I came to watch someone plug in a string of lights.
I heard the bleat of a car horn just as I was cursing the hill. I got even angrier. Who was having me on? Some lad in a truck mocking my impression of Sisyphus no doubt. A silver hatchback pulled over to the side of the road ahead of me. I narrowed my eyes, wishing I could fire laser bolts when I realised it was Charlotte.
“Want a lift the rest of the way?” she asked rolling down the window. I nodded, now feeling awful that I had been in such a foul mood. I placed my suitcase in the back and climbed into the passenger seat.
The ride took less than a minute and I was grateful I wouldn’t have to continue my parody of ancient Greek tragedy for the ten minutes it would have taken me to make it to my room. I was lucky, Charlotte was just returning from a weekend spent at home when she spotted me. We exchanged stories from our adventures, me in London and she in Yorkshire. I began to relax a bit more.
“Did you still want to go see the lights?” she asked.
“I think I do, yeah,” I replied.
We decided to head back to our respective rooms for fifteen minutes, have an early dinner, and then head into town. I got back to my room and immediately unpacked everything. I always have to unpack immediately otherwise my suitcase will sit there for weeks. I hung my scarf on its peg, placed my K-9 tee shirt in the wardrobe and poured my worn clothes into the laundry bag. I sat down and finally took a deep breath. It felt like I hadn’t properly breathed all day.
After a creative hodge podge of a dinner, Charlotte and I headed over to Emily’s. She was planning on coming into town with us. The three of us began walking down the hill just as the sun was beginning to sink beneath the trees. Charlotte had a few errands to run and we had made it to town in good time. They wouldn’t be turning the lights on for at least another hour and half. We whizzed around the peninsula navigating through the crowds. When we got to Market Square, well, to be honest, I still have no idea what to make of what we saw.
There was a lit stage and a giant screen on which a man dressed as Santa was singing to a reindeer puppet.
The two Americans turned to Charlotte seeking an explanation. She looked at us.
“What is it?” she asked.
“What is all this?” I asked laughing, “I thought it would just be a quick little ceremony. Like the mayor would say something like ‘thanks all for coming’ and then someone would plug the lights in.”
“Oh no no. It’s very commercialised here, these sorts of things. They’ll have some B or C list celebrities and musical performances and all,” she explained.
It wasn’t at all what I expected. We wandered around town and up to the cathedral, killing time before the grand moment. When we did get back to the square it was filled with people and there was not room to move. There was some terrible singing and then the mayor did finally make a speech. Then the countdown . . .
Afterwards Emily decided to stay in town at one of the pubs with some friends we ran into at the lighting. Charlotte and I were completely done in and decided to head back and have a cup of tea before bed.