Niki Cheong is blogging

My first Christmas away from home

Merry Christmas!

It’s odd to be spending my Christmas eve in bed writing this post when it’s usually filled with noise and presents. We grew up having dinner on the eve and waiting till midnight for Christmas to arrive so that we could unwrap presents.

Over the past few years, we’ve been unwrapping presents earlier because the kids just couldn’t wait. This year is a bit more special because we have a newborn in the family.

Unfortunately, this was also the year that I couldn’t join my family – for the first time in my life. I was a little bummed but I had come to terms with it a couple of months ago when I realised how much money a ticket home would cost.

So I did the next best thing – I Skyped with the family.

I’m still a bit sad that I couldn’t be with them but what can you do? I’m spending Christmas tomorrow with my best friend Adam and some friends so that will be special too and I’m looking forward to it.

But I didn’t mean for this post to be a downer – it’s all good!

I just really wanted to share this article below I had written for publishing in Tale of Two Cities but unfortunately, something came up and the story didn’t run again. So here it is!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tower Bridge and Christmas


THIS week marks the third month since I first moved over to London. The first term of university has just ended, I’ve settled into my flat and dare, I say it, am adjusting to the cold.

While I am sad that I will not be celebrating Christmas with my family for the first time in my life, there is something magical about living in a country where Christmas is actually celebrated in the winter.

Just a month ago, Christmas lights started appearing on the famed Regent and Oxford Streets in central London while Covent Garden erected a huge deer. Right next to my university is the Somerset House, which has built an ice skating rink just for the winter months.

Every corner of the city reminds you that it’s the yuletide season, and not just the retailers hoping to capitalize on the Christmas gift exchange tradition.

In fact, if Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, lived in 21st century, he wouldn’t be able to stay grumpy for long.

It’s been a long while since I’ve been caught up in this Christmas spirit. Back in Malaysia, Christmas decorations are mostly found in shopping centres. Personally, I tend to get so caught up with work that I do my shopping at the last minute and really only get into the mood when I see the sparkles in the eyes of my nephew and niece as it approaches time to exchange gifts.

Another great thing about Christmas over here is the numerous parties or get-together that’s organised before everyone disappears for the beak. Sure, it’s a good excuse to have a drink or two, but it is also the season where many pubs stock up on mulled wine and cider.

We have those back home in Malaysia too, of course, but because of the weather here, those winter specialties have actual practical use.

All of that aside, it is also much easier to get into the spirit when you’re all padded up in warm clothes in the cold winter. The only missing so far is a white Christmas, which I am still hoping for.

Sixteen years ago, around this time, my parents brought my sisters and I on our first long-haul trip ever to London. I remember being terribly disappointed when they told me that it doesn’t get cold enough here to snow.

You can imagine the thrill a teenager like me must have felt when we landed and I saw snowflakes landing on the plane’s window.

Even back then, friends and relative had told us that nothing much happens in London during Christmas. I never understood it because for someone like me, the pretty lights, the cold weather and the merriment were the epitome of what Christmas should feel like.

What they meant, and that I’ve just discovered, is that London as a city shuts down totally on Christmas day. Unless you’re up for paying extravagant taxi fares, you would most likely be wrapped up at home all day because the shops are all closed and the public transport system doesn’t run.

Then there is also the Christmas “exodus”. London is an extremely transient city, and many people – even the British – are not native to the city. Many will leave the city to go back to their respective countries for the year-end celebrations, as would the Brits who come from the smaller towns and cities in the country.

Others, like many of my classmates, will that the opportunity of the break to travel around and explore Europe.

I wonder if the only people who will be left in London are tourist!

I am staying back in London because this is my “exploration”. As we approach Christmas, I’m looking forward to seeing what else I haven’t experienced and I’m curious as to just how quite the city will be on Christmas day. I also feel like it would be great fun to see how the city awakens on Boxing Day.

But most of all, I am looking forward to the first snowflake (hopefully). I would imagine that the feeling I will have when that happens wouldn’t be that much different than the one I had 16 years ago.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

> Niki is currently studying for his MA Digital Culture and Society at Kings College London, under the British Chevening Scholarship programme.

12.04am Greenwich Meridian Time

Discussion (1)

There is one response to “My first Christmas away from home”.

  1. I know how it feels being away from home. Classmates are our families when we’re away from our beloved hometown :)

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