If you clicked on this link hunting for a sappy story, to avoid disappointment I suggest you should head to CNN. To be clear, the title of the story is in no way inspired by Charles Dickens’ book but by London’s festive event Winter Wonderland and the song it reminds me of. Cut the park some slack: Christmas lights, mulled wine, live music, festive food, roller coasters… What more could you ask for?
Conventional Christmas’ values such as family, tradition and generosity are completely lost on me. My favourite seasonal song is “Don’t Shoot Me Santa,” but at least I’m not lying like the rest of you guys by writing I’ve been nice on the letter addressed to the North Pole. Perhaps I’m damaged goods but there’s a good explanation for that: After watching too many American Christmas films as a child, I’ve been brainwashed by the principles of consumerism; that is why all I ever associated with Christmas was getting presents. The spirit of giving, however, is latent in me: I give my money to Santa every year, well, at least to the one behind the bar serving the eggnog.
Before you judge me too harshly, there’s something you need to get straight.
London may be stressful, full of disoriented tourists that stand in the middle of the street while looking at a map upside down and making a sport out queuing to shop for clothes that would be cheaper, nicer and not sewed by poor children if they bought them in their own countries. London may be a cold place sometimes – not only because Londoners tend to get edgy when you walk slowly but literally freezing. And London may also be a nest of alcoholics, junkies and Scientologists. Even so, if there’s something London knows how to do, then that is Christmas.
The whole city is a heartwarming display of Christmas lights and decorations like no other. There are shining angels that hover over you as you walk down the street to Piccadilly Circus, dreamlike misty ice rinks surrounded by illuminated old buildings, brightly decorated trees, and magical lights everywhere. With the help of pixie dust, during the holidays, London morphs into a real Winter Wonderland. That is why I couldn’t help but sing the famous carol as I wandered the streets of the city and the stalls of the holiday park.
It might still sound like I’m exaggerating, but after spending two Christmases in Australia, just the sight of fake snow is enough to make me bawl.
It’s not like the holidays are half bad Down Under, they just don’t feel like Christmas at all. Aussies celebrate it by gathering to have a barbecue down at the beach. Don’t forget it’s summer down there. They take their Santa hats, their meals and, in some cases, their Christmas trees and have a picnic on the sand. Go figure! I won’t deny it, it’s pretty awesome, but it just never felt right. Not to me.
That is why on my way home back to Spain this season, I took a detour to London to get into the Christmas spirit. Nothing gets you into the holiday mood like ordering mulled wine to take away at a bar. As in Australia you can’t drink out in the streets – at least, not legally – this experience felt like my own Miracle on 34th Street. London felt like the city of possibilities. Not only can you indulge yourself in mulled wine while walking outside in the cold, but you can also have some hot chocolate mixed with brandy or any other liquor, mulled cider and so on. The happiness you feel drinking drink a warm alcoholic drink out in the cold can only be compared to having a proper cup of coffee while backpacking.
That is why I couldn’t let that happiness slip through my fingers when I landed in Spain. As Málaga in December is 20 degrees warmer than London, it’s obvious why in Spain they don’t do mulled wine, even though it is clearly sangria’s alter ego. Therefore I ignored the fact that the last time I tried making mulled wine at home I set it on fire, and attempted at making it again. Nobody but my grandmother was at home yet, so it was the perfect time to try it.
I think you should know, my grandmother is not much of a drinker and she still thinks I’m five – even though, in some ways I still am.
“Don’t drink more than a shot,” she warned me. “Those sweet drinks go straight to your head.”
“Oh please, grandma. I’m a member of A.P.”
“Alcoholics in Public.”
To be fair, I’ve downed cups after cups of mulled of wine and they’ve had no effect on me. My grandma, however, was a different story. All I can say is you haven’t lived until you got your own poor grandma drunk. I couldn’t help but think If she gets hick ups, that’s it, I’ll pee myself.
It’s not that my grandmother doesn’t know me very well. It’s just that she hadn’t seen me in three years and I’ve carefully avoided Christmas at home in almost the last decade. Why, you ask? I have nothing against my family – in fact, I love them very much – but if I’m intense, just imagine how are they. That plus the holidays, Christmas at home is where Spanish Inquisition meets the Salem Witch Trials. Things get so heated up, Arthur Miller shows up in my dreams and states: “There’s my sequel!”
It starts with my dad being a 21st-century kind of dad.
“How come you haven’t been hired by CNN?”
“Haven’t you seen the dent on the floor? Their insurance can’t cover me.”
Then he travels back to the turn of the XIX century.
“How come you can’t find a man and keep him happy?”
“Because trafficking with valium in Australia is really hard… You have to compete with the locals.”
But my dad wasn’t home yet. He is a pilot and he mostly lives in Taiwan with my sister – let’s call her Lucy. I was still in Málaga alone with my grandma awaiting the prosecution. In the meantime, my grandma had better plans for me. She wanted me to decorate the Christmas tree and the house for Lucy. Usually, I would refuse as all I want for Christmas is that bubbly drink that pops and keeps you from killing your relatives. Unfortunately, my grandma used the Lucy card. That was a low blow. There’s nothing I’d do for that sweet little kid. She is only 7 years old, half Spanish, half Taiwanese and just the cutest kid in the world. She has had a tough year as her parents got recently divorced and my grandma took the time to remind me of that.
Lucy might not be first child of divorce in the world. I am one myself. But unlike her, while Lucy is closely attached to both her parents, I am close to my MacBook.
That is why I scoured the house for functioning Christmas lights and the only ones I found were American. You know what that entails. Different power voltage (American, 110 volts; European, 220) and different plugs. But it didn’t end there. All Christmas decorations I could find that light up were American, yet you know what I couldn’t find – a transformer. I was about to use an adapter but then I realised I was just short of causing a short-circuit.
After getting attacked by inanimate objects over and over, at last I found a voltage converter and managed to connect all the Christmas lights one to another. It wasn’t an easy task. The tree fell on top of me and, according to my grandma, I almost set the curtains ablaze.
Despite the difficulties for a clumsy person like me and after all those years of neglecting the holiday season, I took a raincheck on being The Grinch and actually looked forward to Christmas. What kept me going was the image of my baby sister’s excited face at seeing the decorations. There are things you forget as you grow up, and I certainly had forgotten the excitement I felt at the prospect of these celebrations. It wasn’t just about the presents. When you are a grown-up, it’s so complicated to feel joyful, but when you are kid, it’s quite simple.
Truth be told, it doesn’t take much to make a kid happy. At least just for an instant.
I waited to see Lucy’s face brighten up at the sight of the Christmas decorations. I waited for her cheery laugh and her excitement. I waited for her jovial charisma and her beaming eyes. I waited for her juvenile enthusiasm and her genuine happiness.
And I waited.