A couple of days ago I was walking back to college from Gloucester Green Market. As a treat, I had bought one of my favourite foods for lunch: momos, a Nepalese steamed dumpling. Although they were, of course, not as good as the ones my grandma makes, they certainly satisfied my craving for comfort food. In fact, they were good enough that as I ate, I felt tears coming to my eyes.
This was not some food-based epiphany. As for most people, this year Christmas will be different for my family. It’s going to be strange not embarking on the long car journey up to stay with my grandparents. I’ll miss the little things, most of all: the warm chaotic hubbub of too many people in one bungalow, fighting over who gets the sofa seat with the footrest, and maybe most of all, the smell of cooking wafting from the kitchen.
Food is an important part of our Christmas there, specifically Nepalese food. I am half-Nepalese, but I often struggle to feel connected to that part of my heritage, not speaking the language and only having visited Nepal once. Food is the main way I feel that connection, and Christmas is one of the few times a year that my siblings and I get to wolf down my grandma’s amazing cooking.
Momos are a particular favourite of the whole family. More than just a meal, they’re a communal experience. An evening is designated, fillings are prepared, and parents, siblings, grandparents, and aunties all take up their roles in the production line, scooping, wrapping, and steaming. We rush from the kitchen to the table, gobbling down piping hot dumplings before they cool. My brother and I compete to see who can eat the most, then collapse onto the sofa to watch that evening’s Christmas-adjacent programming.
This is, in itself, a relatively insignificant thing to miss out on this year. But given what we have had to give up this year – with good reason, of course, though that doesn’t make it easier – losing these rituals will still be difficult. Perhaps this feeling is the result of some ancient human instinct, the urge to gather your kin around the fire and tell stories to ward off the bitter cold of deep winter. Or perhaps it is simply that winter is often a difficult time, even without a pandemic, with shorter days and unerringly gloomy weather, meaning that we cling to the small, familiar moments of comfort we can find.
Another ritual that I will be missing this year – though I know many people will not – is Christmas shopping.
Whilst, yes, it can be stressful and exhausting, I’m a sucker for festive cheer. There’s something thrilling about the ritual of wrapping up warm and heading into town. The hustle and bustle of Christmas shoppers laden down with bags, the tackily beautiful lights draped in the air above woollen hatted heads, even the same three Christmas songs that blare tinnily down at you in every shop you enter – it is both infuriating and wonderful in its familiarity. More than that it is wonderful because it’s something you specifically do at Christmas. Losing those little rituals that feel so much a part of what makes the season leaves me, at least, feeling a little melancholy.
Whatever the cause of these feelings, I guess what I’m trying to say is that we should not be too hard on ourselves for missing normality this festive season. Maybe I’m just complaining about nothing. I am lucky enough, for example, to still be able to go home for Christmas. I am certainly romanticising certain aspects of the festive period, particularly Christmas shopping.Regardless, my point still stands. 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, and for those who, like me, are a sucker for Christmas cheer, this holiday season is hopefully going to provide some much needed comfort. As much as we need to be aware and stay safe, this festive season be kind to yourself, if you can.