Louis-Dreyfus Scholar Nidhi Singh reflects on spending the festive period in Oxford, including a traditional British Christmas experience in Combe.
Coming from a country like India, where Christmas is not such a big celebration, experiencing this Christmas in a western country like the UK was quite special to me. The period around Christmas and New Year can get really lonely especially for international students who usually do not have their family around. Just before the Christmas break was going to start, I had so many people asking me my plans during Christmas, as it would get really lonely here. But I failed to understand the reason behind them asking me this question, until I really witnessed the period for myself. My experience of staying back for the festive period in the UK, however, was quite different.
This break gave me a lot of time to explore in and around Oxford including the colleges. The beauty of studying in Oxford is that it is so diverse and yet so centralized. Each college here has something special and extraordinary to boast about. Some colleges have the most majestic and beautiful Chapels, some have the most beautiful lawns and some take pride in having the biggest dining halls. This Christmas afforded me the luxury of exploring Oxford as a University in greater details, which the stress of Michaelmas term had prevented me from doing.
Every college here has a pre-Christmas dinner, which is quite grand in itself. There are well-decorated and lit Christmas trees and aesthetically wrapped gifts kept around which makes it look so Christmassy! Being a Weidenfeld Scholar at Oxford gave me an opportunity to celebrate my Christmas in a more eventful manner. The Director of our Scholarship, Alexandra Henderson invited all the scholars for lunch at her place in Combe, a village northeast of Witney in Oxfordshire. She planned the day really well and I enjoyed every moment.
We started off from Oxford at 10:00 am in the morning in a bus reserved especially for the scholars by Alexandra. We reached at her place around 11:30 am and we were very warmly welcomed by her family members. After a short chat over a cup of tea/coffee and having some delicious Panettones (sweet bread loaf originally from Milan usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year in Italy), Alexandra took us a for a pleasant country walk across the farms where we learnt about the rich cultural history of England and saw various kind of cultivation. I have never witnessed such beautiful farms ever in my life. To me the most beautiful sight was when I saw herd of sheep grazing in the field. I felt so good and refreshing connecting with the nature which we usually do not get when we live in the center of the town. After an hour of a walk, we returned to Alexandra’s home for a really grand Christmas lunch/feast. Her family members were kind enough to work on preparing the food for around 15 of us. I could see the pleasure and warmth in their eyes in hosting the scholars with such open arms. I felt like just being at home with every minute that passed by in Alexandra’s house. I had the opportunity to experience a proper English Christmas lunch, which I shall cherish for years to come. I had some of the best pastas, different types of cupcakes and cheese and the classic Christmas pudding. After finishing our meal we played some traditional English games with Alexandra’s family members and amongst the scholars, which was quite an exciting moment for each one of us.
A good friend of Alexandra who is a journalist and has interviewed many big names in the political field also joined us towards the later half of the day. To me, this interaction with him was one of the memorable moments of the day as I was fascinated listening to his experiences, which was so vivid in nature. It was almost time to bid adieu to Alexandra and her family members and just like the perfectly planned and organised person she is, she ensured we returned to Oxford exactly on time.
When I returned to my room that night, I was so ecstatic for having experienced and celebrated Christmas in a place like Oxford. To me this period before and after Christmas was not lonely as people had warned me against. Rather, it gave me an opportunity to appreciate the festivity around, interact with new people, jog around the Oxford University parks and above all to re-connect and engage with the Weidenfeld scholars which we get to do less often given the rigorous academic curriculum of Oxford.