I do not experience prolonged bouts of homesickness. Usually it happens predictably, at one of two times: in the week leading up to a trip home, or when the weather is grey and miserable. As both of these things occur only every two or three months, it’s fair to say that I’m happy as Larry most of the time. I sometimes think that when I cycle to work in the sunshine past the port, grinning my cheeks off, that I look like I belong in the Von Trapp family cycling through the Austrian countryside. There are no hills in Valencia, but man, I feel alive!
The exception to my immunity to/repression of homesickness is the month of December. Valencia is decorated with Christmas lights, trees made from lights, a small ice-rink. The shops are stuffed with turrón, chocolate covered dried fruit and novelty ‘three kings’. We have bought a little Christmas tree and there is one at work too. I have even wrapped some presents and put them under our little tree. Still, I feel as Christmassy as a Jehovah’s Witness at a carol service.
I am no Ebeneezer-Scrooge-Humbug. Although I find Christmas shopping stressful, hoping that people will like what I buy them, I truly love Christmas. It literally lights up the darkest time of year. No coincidence that the Christians imposed Christmas onto the Pagan midwinter festival of Yule; what else is there to look forward to in northern Europe at this bleak time of year? It is the only time that the cold, short days seem appropriate. It is hard to feel festive when the sun is beaming 16C through your windows, obliterating the colourful lights on your Christmas tree. (N.B. NOT complaining about sunshine-never! Just saying…) There is no need for that woolly scarf during the day, much less mulled wine or a Baileys hot chocolate to warm you up. All these things we do back home, in the northern lands; all redundant here.
So here I am in Valencia, still needing my scarf at night. Desperate to return to the north, because Christmas also means family and friends and remembering who you are in another place. We have made some great friends here and always have fun times with them, but old friends are different. The ones who have shared tears and laughter with you; seen the best and worst of you; the ones who welcome you home with open arms and a glass of red wine. The ones you sigh with relief to see. The ones you have chosen as your extended family.
So every day in December I am craving a night in my mum’s little house by the Irish Sea, with gale force winds whistling down the chimney. I want films and red wine and chocolate on a dark, cold, winter night. I want to wrap up and walk along the promenade, leaning into the wind before going for a pot of English tea and a soft, buttered fruit scone in one of the little cafes. I want to feel the cold biting, so that my coat and winter woolies are necessary, not cumbersome.
All these small, favourite things that make Christmas christmassy, all back home. Here, we try, with Christmas music and decorations, but it’s just not the same. Of course it’s not the same; it is a different country and we moved here for change and difference. But nothing makes me appreciate England like a journey of one thousand miles.