December privilege



It’s a hard time for immigrant-me, far from home and in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holidays I find most meaningful.

The pangs of homesickness start on Bonfire Night. My skin misses the bitter night air; my ears, the woosh and pop of the fire, sparklers sizzling, the gunshot clap of firewords, the crackle of light in the sky followed by the ‘ooooohs’ and ‘aaaahhs’ of the crowd. I miss the smell of wood smoke, of spent fireworks, of onions from the burger vans. The boozy scorch of home-mulled wine in the throat and flashes of light skittering across the sky across the sky. I love the excitement, being wrapped up in warm clothes against the cold, the glow of the flames on the faces in the crowd.

And it kicks off the anticipation of Christmas. The train tickets get booked, cards get made or bought then written and forgotten, the bargain eye comes out on the prowl for deals on the edible Xmas essentials.

I love Christmas. I love twinkling lights, glinting tinsel, plump baubles dangling from the tree. I love spending a run of days mooching at home with the family, no work, just exchanging gifts, wearing paper hats and poor taste Xmas jumpers, arguing over Monopoly, dominating at Charades and stuffing down my stepdad’s delectable Xmas cooking. There is no other time in the year we dedicate so much time and effort to enjoying ourselves in every way possible: sights, smells, loving and feeling loved. No other time of year welcomes my terrible puns with such tipsy enthusiasm. Sure, the university canteen where I have lunch sometimes has had an xmas tree up since 1973, but refusing to take the tree down does NOT create the year-round festive cheer you might imagine.

It’s not the same for any of us, this year. I’ll be here in Bangkok, work as usual, teaching on Christmas day (to the surprise of some who might not connect the fact that Buddhist countries generally don’t shut down for Christian holidays). My mum and stepdad will be with J’s parents, staying in the hills of Northern Thailand with the Karen community J grew up in and with whom we spent Xmas last year. My sister and little brothers will be at my mum’s in Chester. My sister will cook (she makes a mean roast) and they’ll sleep and eat and drink and argue and laugh among themselves.

Writing all this, though, I am struck – how is it possible that I sometimes forget? – how absolutely and shockingly privileged I am. I think of the Christmasses I’ve adored and it’s breathtaking. I’ve always had shelter and safety. I’ve had family around me, and visited still more. I’ve had more food than a sensible person should eat, and gifts I wanted but didn’t need. I’ve been in an atmosphere of excitement and joy and had the security of those feelings extending from the past into the future. I’ve had the time and resources – the luxury – of dedicating myself to indulgence and enjoyment. I am extremely privileged.

I think of those people, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, whole countries, continents, who have none of this. People who are at home and unsafe, or who have no home, or who have but were forced to leave. I can’t help to call to mind, suddenly, Warsan Shire‘s explosively powerful and blade-sharp poem, Home. Read it. Read everything she’s written. The woman is a wordsmith.

I donated to Refuge this month, on a day I was feeling particularly pathetic and sorry for myself. Time to go again, methinks. I’ll be donating to UNHCR this time. I’ve the time, resources and inclination, and it is a good reminder of the absurdity of my self-pity, about how it mesmerizes you, dulls your brain into long swathes of selfish and self-serving thoughts and  behaviour. I am not how I feel, and how I feel is not me. I am more. I can do more. And I choose to.




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