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Holiday Blues

Written by
Chukwugoziem Nwadugbo
and
and
January 25, 2024
Holiday Blues
Via Chad Madden on Unsplash

It’s the 25th of December, and I am curled up in my apartment watching old episodes of Vanderpump Rules cringing hard at the television screen. This year, I am spending Christmas alone and it’s an experience (an isolating drab one). Being an international student living in Canada, one of the cons includes not having your family with you during holidays and missing out on family rituals.

Because I am missing out on this, I want to reminisce on what Christmas looked like for me years ago when I last spent it with my extended family in Nigeria. Christmas has always been a family event where everyone, aunties from far away states and countries, cousins you have not seen for years and kids you never knew about come together. It’s usually the time you meet the seven kids your uncle has that no one knew about before.

Because we lived in a state where there was a brewery, two days before the 25th, my parents would go there to buy crates of drinks and boxes of wine for the crowd of people that they were expecting. As a kid, they typically would not let us have more than one drink, and would choose what type of soda you would drink. On Christmas day though, the adults allow the kids to have as many drinks of their choice as they like. 

Cooking is also another core part of celebrating Christmas in my family. The night before Christmas, the women and kids in the family would start prepping for all the meals that would be cooked the next day with loud music playing in the background. The next day at the crack of dawn, the women would already be outside cooking before the rest of the house wakes up, so you’re getting up to the sweet aroma of your favorite food cooking. I like to hang around acting like I’m helping out because I’d probably get yelled at if I was lazing around (the yelling is pretty much tradition anyway). The rest of the day would typically be spent eating, listening to music, avoiding adults and trying to drink as much soda as possible because the next time you would be able to do this would be next year.

The interesting thing about this cooking tradition is that most of it is done for the people coming to visit you, and not necessarily for the family. It is expected that you would go visiting and people would come visiting, resulting in a weird food exchange but it’s cute. The most beautiful part of this practice is that food is given to everyone regardless of if the family knows you or not, emphasizing the value of community to us. It’s also a way to look out for underprivileged people in surrounding communities.

To think of it now, Christmas is barely about the birth of Jesus even though ours is a very Christian household. It feels so much like a family reunion, a massive family celebration, and this is why it is difficult to be away from home during the festive period. It is like missing out on core experiences and the stark difference between the way I have celebrated Christmas this year and how I would when I was younger increases the isolating feeling. 

It is never always this big of a celebration—in some years it’s just my parents and brothers—and while the celebration is not massive on the same scale, the practices remain the same. The trip to the brewery, the cooking, hosting, and food exchange are still core features of the holidays.

But this experience is not unique to me, so many other international students and immigrants can attest to experiencing this isolating feeling which is usually heightened during the festive period. Community is a major feature of non-western countries, such that you’re always surrounded with people from extended families to neighbors and family friends. The individualistic feature of the western world is so foreign to me as a Nigerian, escalating the feelings of isolation and loneliness. 

Of course, people make their tiny little communities when they immigrate to new places, but it can never replicate the community that you grow up in. Me and my friends made plans to replicate what we would do with our families in Nigeria. We cooked a big bowl of jollof rice, plantain and chicken, had some drinks and hung out. It felt good until we decided to go out and almost everywhere was closed or empty and the familiar feelings of dissatisfaction, isolation and loneliness set in.

I guess this is geared towards everyone that feels this type of isolation during the holidays for whatever reasons there might be some type of satisfaction knowing that there are others who resonate with your experience, and this is a reminder that you are not alone. Pop that bottle of wine and watch a horrible TV show (I personally recommend a reality TV show) if you don’t have plans. Don’t dwell on your negative feelings, facetime your family and spend time your friends and/or chosen family.

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