London

Behind the UK's doors: Christmas traditions

Anyone who knows me knows I love Christmas. My flatmates and colleagues have definitely had to put up with this little elf for a lot longer than they’d have expected - festive playlists are fine to blast from early November, right? From the music and food to the religious traditions and decorations, it is something that, for a month (or, in my case, more), everyone and everything gets involved in - in many places, there is a real sense of community

The UK is so diverse - over 300 languages are spoken in the capital alone, according to government statistics) - so while on first glance, it may seem we follow the same quintessentially British traditions year in, year out, behind our closed doors, there's a hell of a lot more going on in this multi-cultural country. 

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My Christmas

In our house, Christmas Day starts like many other households in the UK. We wake up early to open the presents my youngest brother has sorted into piles, devour a fry up, then retreat to our rooms, or the sofa, for a nap. The day ends in similar familiar fashion to many of you reading this, with the Christmas episode of EastEnders and a bottle of Baileys or Port floating about. However, it's the middle bit that has some added flavour where we're concerned. Alongside the dulcet tones of Mariah and Buble, Parang music blasts out and our table sees pastelles, stew chicken and rice amidst the pigs in blankets, turkey and roasties. 

Behind other doors…

“The sheer amount of people involved [in our Christmas]… it’s literally a game of how many Greeks can we fit in one house. After church in the morning, we come home and wait for the whole family to pile in - it’s usually around 20 to 30 people, sometimes more. We then have a bowl of soup, either avgolemoni (egg, lemon, chicken, and rice soup) or drahana (crushed wheat soup). We also play a Greek card game called gounga with my grandparents, which is basically Gin Rummy, but with more cards, and my bapou (grandad) is the master!” 

Elle, 27

“We celebrate according to the old religious calendar, on the 6th January. We have a 12-course Christmas dinner, each dish representing a disciple, so there is lots and lots of food! Traditionally, you start eating dinner when the first star appears in the sky that evening, but we always end up starting much sooner… There’s always a bush of wheat in the room where we eat dinner, too, which represents the people who have died.”

Christina, 21

“Back at home [in Ecuador], we celebrate Christmas on 24th with all the family round, opening presents after dinner. However, when I am here, I have a very British Christmas. I like to have Latin music on in the background when I cook though!”

Fabio, 30

“When I was younger, my parents would always take all our presents over to my gran's on Christmas Eve, and we'd stay there the night and open them the next day - that's something I plan on doing with my kids, too. My gran would always make this sauce that was way too runny, but we'd love it because that was her way of making it!”

Eleni, 27

“We drive to a farm to get our Christmas tree and meet with the other villagers on Christmas Eve to sing carols, and I make pepperpot a week in advance to eat with freshly baked bread on Christmas morning - a Guyanese tradition.”

Nirvana, 30

In defence of using dating apps to network rather than date

Being a single gal in ol' London town, I am obviously on a dating app. However, it's no secret that I hate dating. The awkward chatter between two complete strangers, both eyeing each other up and questioning each and every interaction - each little giggle, glance, or brush of the arm - within an inch of its life. Ew. It's weird.

So why the F am I on dating apps then, I hear you ask. Well, OBVIOUSLY, the end goal is to meet 'that guy', but in the meantime, I just like the idea of getting a snapshot into some random people's lives that I otherwise would not have met. Is that odd? Are you judging my intentions? WAIT, let me explain...

We're on dating apps because we haven't met that special someone in our daily lives, right? Colleagues, existing friends, friends of friends; they're all very similar or they have something we just do not want in a partner (or there is some unrequited love shit going on, but let's not get into that). On a dating app, there are thousands of people at your fingertips. No pressure, no expectations, no anything. You dip in, and you dip out. You chat, or you don't chat. You literally have no obligations to this person, and they have none to you. You get half an hour/45 minutes/a day's snippet of a total stranger's life and, with it, a totally different perspective. It's like a constant rolling documentary told through words. For someone who is inquisitive and intrigued by human psychology and sociology (read: really f-ing nosy), I relish it.

Obvs, you get the absolute weirdos who are straight in with their intentions (yes mate, OF COURSE I'm going to invite you to my flat within 15 minutes of talking to you  *rolls eyes*), the weirdest chat-up lines ("I once had a guy tell a riddle about a parrot and a bucket that went on for AN AGE," one of my friends told me) and the ones with absolutely ZERO chat, but every so often, you'll actually have some decent conversations.

With most of the guys I've chatted to, we had a really good conversation about homelessness/bread/music/the Kardashians. Some of them changed my perspective on things, others offered a peek into a daily life I know nothing about. Again, with most, I've never spoken to them again. No fizzling out; just the documentary had ended.

A friend told me how she once swiped right on a mannequin: "it was dressed as a British soldier and when I asked how his day was, he replied it was okay; he'd just been staring out the window all day, stuff like that." For the serious dater, this would be a waste of time, but personally, I think that's hilarious.

Of course, there is the question of leading people on. If I continue to chat, does that mean I'm giving false hope to men I have no intention of meeting? Maybe, maybe not. I think it depends on the guy. I won't be outrageously flirty if I know I'm not going to meet them, but then the fact we're chatting on a dating app could seem like a clear indicator. Personally, for me, if they have an issue, there's the block button, there's the unmatch button, and I'm okay with that. 

There are actual 'swipe to make new friends' apps, and Bumble actually has a Bumble BFF section, too, but it really isn't that well-known. At the end of the day, there are less interesting people to chose from on those. Don't get me wrong; I love my friends and my life is filled with an array of stimulating people, but isn't it nice to just chat to a stranger sometimes, without an agenda or forward plan? It's just a bonus if you continue talking to them after day one, if they slide into your WhatsApp, into your calendar, and into your life.

 

What does community mean to you?

Images: Kerri Walter (Instagram: @kerriwalterphotography)

As the end of the year approaches, we’re encouraged to celebrate the notion of ‘Christmas spirit’. This encompasses many things, one of which is the conscious effort to surround ourselves with people during the festive season, more than at any other time of the year.

For those with fewer, or difficult, family connections, friends and community often take the lead.

“To me, a community consists of people from different paths and backgrounds with various opinions and points of view, banded together by the group that they find themselves in. This can be a place they live that isn't 'home',” says Heather, 31, one of the founders of The Only Way Is Singapore, a community for expat women living in the South Asian country.

What primarily began as a Facebook group has now become a great way to meet like-minded people. Women can ask for recommendations on anything from travel, to where can they get their hair done, as well as looking for a new housemate, selling their items or just asking for someone to go for a drink with.

“It is a lovely community that I am proud of that I know has helped a lot of women whilst living there,” she said.

Of course, we often seek out others for support when we’re out of our comfort zone, but what about a little closer to home? Community means different things to different people, so we asked six people what community means to them:

Paul, 44

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“To me, community is about looking out for one another. By creating a community, we are able to protect those who are vulnerable, help those who need assistance and work together to create a better immediate environment for those we share it with. It is building a family that is not based on unconditional love, but instead on unconditional proximity that means we should work together to make our space interesting, enjoyable and simply good. Growing up, my community was based on my school. It was a little school with a maternal headmistress who taught us to respect and help one another. Despite her old fashioned ways and strict manner she taught us that we were all equal and to appreciate everyone's differences. At the moment, I have my neighbourhood which is full of friends and I am part of a local Jewish community. However, I do think that recently people have started to shy away from their local communities and instead live in their global digital communities. People talk less in the park or at the shops, instead they believe a digital connection is as good as a real life one. I'm not so sure.”

Vanessa, 24

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“The word community for me is not so much of a tangible place but more so of a group of people who do not have to share similar interests, but wish to create a better, healthier and more socially substantial space to do good for the world and the people around them. Growing up abroad, I was not drawn to a particular community and being mixed raced, it was difficult for me to open up to the very different racial communities that my parents were a part of. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, per say, but after moving back to London I soon realised that there are many more communities existing than I was led to believe.”

Valerie, 77

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“It’s about getting on with each other; being friendly, not falling out, or arguing. The community I grew up in was very nice actually. Used to all play together, all the little children. We lived out in the country and you could go walk about and no one had to worry. It was very safe years ago. Not everyone knew each other as it was a bit of a small community, but when I got older, about 10 or 11, I used to go and do two ladies shopping. One used to like me going down the shops because she couldn’t make it - I used to get a penny a time. Another lady grew to like me, she wanted to adopt me, but my mum wouldn’t let that happen! Recently, my neighbours had a family party - the mum and dad’s anniversary - and they put me in the wheelchair and took me to their party. It’s not as good as it used to be when I was younger, things change over the years, but if I was in trouble of course my neighbours now would be here.”

Gerrard, 63

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“I moved here from Dublin when I was five or six and when I first came to this country there was every race and we all congregated not far from here. My neighbour taught my mum how to make curry and my mum taught her how to make traditional British food. We also had a Jamaican family living next door and you’d feel like you were in the Caribbean with the music playing. I still know them now - two of them still come in here. Community means people who live in the area, and I think, in England, most parts of the community love to meet in the pub. It’s been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years. This here is a community pub and most of these people are from around this area and they come in here as it's peaceful, they get a good drink and they get well looked after. That’s my job as a licensee: to look after people. I’ve owned the pub for 35 years and I’d say 98% will know of each other. There’s a good sense of community in this pub. The customers look out for everybody. There was a fella walking past who fell over and five or six people picked him up, brought him in, put a blanket over him, found out where he lived, headed to his wife and got him to hospital. They see someone coming up in a wheelchair and two, or three, fellas will run out and help them, if people are ill, they’ll drop each other home. I think people always say people these days aren’t like we were, but I think people are just as good now. Young people are great, they’ve got manners. This is a family pub; that’s what it should be.”

Hilary, 23

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“'Community' has the same definition as 'family': a group of people who come together. It’s an environment you can thrive in, and I feel like while it's more about the people, than the area in some respects, every aspect also makes a community, too. I grew up in a few different communities. The first was in southeast London, which was very family-orientated and everyone looked after each other. I moved around a lot and, when I moved to East, it was very different. Being in that house didn’t feel like I was part of a community; no one spoke to each other except for at school. I also lived in a hostel in Orpington and everyone used to have each other’s back. If there was anyone without anything - like milk, or sugar - we’d help each other out. There was also once where I was locked out after taking the bins out - I’d left my phone inside, I had my slippers on, and I forgot to put on the latch - and neighbours knocked our front door down.”

Chris, 28

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“Community is safety. Feeling relaxed. It’s yours. My Dad used to say that if he went to a pub that was outside London, that wasn’t his, he would drink with his back to the wall. He was outside of his local place. You want to feel like you’re part of something. Being here, in a family pub, feels like going back in time. This is rare. I don’t see this. I feel like being part of a community feels old fashion; like a 1950s thing. 10 years ago, you used to know everyone. Now, no one knows anyone. Community was a street thing, especially as a kid. Being a kid now isn’t like when we were kids. I think you get more of a sense of a community as a kid and then when you’re old. You lose that sense of community in the mid-stages between being a kid and when you’re old because you’re just trying to work and earn money.”

What does community mean to you? Have a little think this Christmas...