For many of us, Christmas is the time we take to reconnect with our loved ones. But not everyone has the privilege of living in the same country with their extended family.
People from different diasporas often take advantage of the Christmas period to return home to spend the holidays with friends and family overseas. However, for the past two years, the pandemic has forced families to spend the holidays in the UK.
When the lockdown slowly started to lift last year, countries like South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia were redlisted in the fire system clumsy signage meaning people couldn’t travel in December.
So, many people were hoping that 2022 would be the year they were reunited. But with costly work commitments and flights during a cost-of-living crisis, that hasn’t been made possible for many.
Nicola, who is a 29-year-old nurse from Hampshire, says before the pandemic she returned to Ghana every two years at least.
“The last time I went back for Christmas was about five years ago. I am not going back this year because I am a nurse and have to work during this period as annual leave is not allowed,” she told HuffPost UK.
Nicola, who has chosen not to share her surname, says she will miss seeing her extended family who don’t live in the UK, as well as the weather, and “the freedom you just don’t get. not in the UK”.
She won’t wake up to the sun in Ghana, but she still plans to enjoy the day. “In the morning with immediate family, after the presents are opened, we tend to have prosecco and an English breakfast,” she says.
“We will then have a traditional ‘English roast’ since my grandmother passed away, my mother took over to do the turkey. Different aunts will cook lamb, sometimes beef and salmon.
“There will also be a few sprinkled Ghanaian dishes like Jollof, a salad my mum coined as ‘Ghana salad’ and chicken.”
Risata Kufuor, a 26-year-old doctor based in the West Midlands, also holds a similar position. She was hoping to return to Ghana for Christmas, but her job requires six weeks’ notice for leave.
“Things are hard to plan given that we change rotations/specialties every four months, which technically means we have a new employer and rotation coordinator every two months,” she explains.
“I just started this rotation in December. You’ll be lucky if your rotation for your next job is sent to you six weeks in advance, and even if that’s the case, good luck if the rotation coordinators for your next job approve a leave request for a rotation you haven’t started yet.”
Also, she saw how expensive return flights to Ghana were and realized that it was not worth it if she could only travel to Ghana for a week.
She will miss the vibrant and joyful atmosphere as well as the back-to-back events in Ghana in December. She also laments the loss of family time in person.
“Instead, I will meet extended family in the UK. We never see each other unless it’s Christmas or in true Ghanaian style, at a funeral,” Kufuor says.
“I believe it will be the usual Anglo-African cuisine with the traditional Christmas dinner with sides of Ghanaian jollof, waakye, fried plantain, washed down with Supermalt. With Ghanaian gospel in the background of course.
“I know I will also have to speak to countless family members over the phone, most of whom I can’t remember and have spoken to for at least a year.”
Work permitting, she plans to go there next year to celebrate Christmas again with her Ghanaian grandparents.
Viva Andrada O’Flynn, a 40-year-old entrepreneur from Love Viva Cakes and Crafts, is from the Philippines but will be spending Christmas at her Gloucestershire home as flights are crowded and expensive.
“In the Philippines, we have a big family. My mother has five brothers and four sisters,” she says. “On Christmas Eve, we went to mass. Then we would meet at a residence of a family member. We have used our house many times for parties, including Christmas Eve.
Viva Andrada O’Flynn
She will miss the rituals of seeing family members in person on Christmas Day. “We would greet each other with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, handshakes, or as a sign of respect to the elderly in the Filipino ‘mano po’ tradition, in which we take the back of an elderly person’s hand and lay it on our forehead,” she explains.
“Together we ate ‘Noche Buena’ (a Spanish term which means ‘good night’ but for us it means Christmas party), we told stories and we exchanged gifts.
“I will miss the company of my family and friends, seeing them and hearing their voices in person, hugging them.”
Cristina Ilao, who is a 38-year-old destination wedding photographer from Cambridgeshire, is also originally from the Philippines. “Christmas is the biggest and happiest holiday in the Philippines,” says Ilao.
“Christmas decorations can be seen on homes and in shops from September and will not be taken down until January. We hang a Parol (traditional star-shaped Christmas lantern) in the windows or outside the house to symbolize the triumph of light over darkness and to represent the star of Bethlehem. In December, you will see lots of children knocking on doors and singing Christmas carols.
Ilao believes that Christmas is synonymous with family and togetherness. “It is the most popular time for Filipinos working abroad to return home and see their loved ones. It’s no surprise to be invited to extended family events, school reunions and weddings,” she says.
“There is a big difference between Christmas in the UK and Christmas at home. It’s much quieter here and I don’t know many people celebrating with extended families,” Ilao adds. “I will definitely miss being with my family and sharing the Noche Buena with them.”
She will incorporate Filipino food into her Christmas in the UK to make her feel right at home. “Filipinos love food and I’m proof of that. I will be making traditional Filipino dishes like Chicken Inasal (Filipino Grilled Chicken), Lechon Kawali (Crispy Fried Pork Belly) and Embutido (Filipino Meatloaf) for Christmas Eve.
Waiki Harnais, who is a 37-year-old medical secretary from London, did not spend Christmas in the Democratic Republic of Congo where she is from but hopes to do so one day.
“I always celebrate Christmas in the UK. We usually have a family reunion, with my siblings and my parents. We take turns having Christmas, but everyone usually brings food and we have a huge meal of Christmas,” says Harnais.
“To incorporate the traditions back home, we always try to include Congolese dishes in our Christmas menu whenever we celebrate with my extended family. My mother and sister usually cook these dishes because I’m not the best person to cook Congolese dishes!
Harnais says that “there aren’t really any typical Congolese traditions at Christmas,” which makes food all the more essential for connecting with one’s culture.
“I would love to experience Christmas at home. I’ve seen pictures and videos of what it’s like – I still have family who live there and share their experience with us,” Harnais says.
“There’s always so much food and the vibe is just different. The weather is also much warmer than here, so it would be nice to experience Christmas in the sun for a change.