As soon as December starts, most of the world decorates itself in festive motifs as we celebrate the end of an old year. In my house, it begins with the house filling up with the sweet smell of my mom’s traditional ponche navideño, my country’s rendition of Glögg (a warm liquor drink, traditionally consumed in the Nordic countries during winter).
In my adult life, I’ve had the privilege to live all over the world; I’ve studied and worked in three different countries and stayed in five different cities in total. Regardless, I’m always back home in Mexico in time to feel the aroma of the hibiscus flower and the guava pass through my nose and fill me up with the warm notion that I’m finally back home to celebrate christmas with my family. This year, unfortunately, will be different.
As almost everyone else’s, 2020 has drastically changed my life due to the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which started late last year and took over the world most of this one. Please don’t get me wrong; having moved to Sweden to study my MSc at Chalmers is awesome. But this experience would most certainly be even more great if, adding to the stress that comes with moving to a country where I don’t know anybody, I didn’t have to deal with the isolation from not being exactly free to socialize. All while trying to protect myself and others from contracting a disease that has taken millions of lives in the past months. Additionally, there will be no ponche for me this year for the first time in my 25 years alive.
Not everything is dark, though, as I have found many ways to feel less alone or bored in this strange land and these strange times; I continuously have online fika (coffee meetups) with friends, go on hikes, walk around
the city instead of using public transport, etc. I also spend time tending to my small garden, finally finishing the long list of books I have started and never managed to read through, and perfecting baking recipes. I even started hand-sewing a dress and it’s beginning to look quite good! Basically, what at first might have seemed scary or depressing has given me the chance to look at new ways to enjoy life that I could have never discovered otherwise.
As a friend very wisely put it, “when presence means a risk, absence is a gift, an act of love” This has been the defining mantra of 2020 while we begrudgingly log on to Zoom or video-dial our friends and relatives to experience some much-needed closeness without the risk of putting those we love in harm’s way. Befitting this new tradition, this year I’ll do like the singer Irving Berlin and dream of a white Christmas surrounded by friends and family, exchanging warm hugs with everyone and bored looks with my sisters across the room when visiting one of our aunts.
Although a rather bleak break from tradition, I’m incredibly grateful for how fortunate I am. The year began with me living in Mexico, working a boring office job. Since then, almost a year later, I have moved eight time zones away to a whole new continent. Now I am studying a graduate degree in Biotechnology, something I’m very passionate about. Although my family has faced some hard losses because of the pandemic, most of us are lucky enough to say that we are healthy and that we have each other’s backs if we need it. I have a roof above my head, food to eat and some new-found good friendships to spend this and, hopefully, more Christmas Days with. This time, I’ll munch on a pepparkakshus (Swedish gingersnap house), drink glögg and enjoy a home-cooked dinner with a friend who, like me and like many this year, has also chosen to stay home to avoid putting his family in risk. And for New Years? Who knows? But I’m sure I will find a way to make it count and enjoy it because, as turbulent as it has been, 2020 has made me learn tons of things about myself and find new ways to be grateful for the life I’m living.
This December, as all others, we celebrate the ending of the year. And what a year it has been. We celebrate it in remembrance of those who we have lost, and for the spirits of those whose luck has dwindled. Regardless of religion (or lack thereof), we pray and hope that next year will bring us that white Christmas we keep dreaming of, just like the ones we used to know.