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A Pandemic Christmas: Celebrating the holidays in 2020


For all of us, 2020 has been a year riddled with uncertainty. The pandemic has brought to light many issues that used to lie under the surface, and forced us to adapt to a radically different world, where our most base habits and pleasures have had to be sacrificed for the possibility of returning back to normal. For us internationals, and especially first years, this year has been full of change. The usual sights and sounds of our home countries feel far gone, and the months spent separated from the familiarity of home have altered our being more than any of us ever expected they would.

When I first arrived here in late summer, the Netherlands was rejoicing that cases were low and the economy could, more or less, function as before. Given the relaxation of measures abound, few of us expected a reemergence of the virus and a new lockdown. I, for one, was certain that I could easily return to my family for the holidays come December. Still, 2020 had one last surprise in store for us: another lockdown and the return to a world abound with fear and concern.

However, it is in our human nature to adapt, and find joy in unfortunate circumstances, whether in new or old places, with our families or in their absence, or with our new and old friends. Many of us have returned home and have had a mostly normal Christmas, but those of us that spent the holidays here have had to be a fair bit more creative.

Centuria was considerate of this issue and replaced its originally face-to-face Christmas mixer with an online one, where sharing drinks and partaking in a variety of activities made for a good substitute for what we would have experienced in a non-pandemic world.

Luckily, two of my high school friends from Romania were also stranded here during Christmas. Since our families have elderly members, we decided it was best we avoided contact and instead chose to spend our holidays here. In a way, my Christmas was spent with familiar faces, although ones more associated with pub crawling in Bucharest rather than Christian festivities. Although an unconventional celebration, it was still pleasant, especially given the quantities of beer and sake that were imbibed. The traditional Romanian Christmas meal, containing questionably high quantities of deep fried pork and cured meats was replaced with a modest serving of spaghetti carbonara cooked by yours truly.

Because Christmas is an experience best shared, we asked SSMS students to give us an account of their experience this year, be it in text or picture format:

“Moving to a different country and living on your own for the first time is something all international students have experienced and struggled with. Many of us have spent Christmas away from our families for the first time, maybe by ourselves or with the friends we've made in the past few months.

Personally, I was able to experience a few hours of Christmas with my family back home, thanks to the wonders of the internet and Messenger. I even got included in the family photo, although good luck spotting me! The pandemic has forced us to get creative when it comes to seeing, meeting, and spending time with our friends and family. With social distancing a requirement for any gathering, dinner tables have had bizarre configurations this year. My extended family definitely had a strange one, with one person eating by the couch, another two at the table, and someone in the kitchen.”

-Hannah Beltran,

“This was the first Christmas I spent without my family. So this year we gathered a few friends, essentially the outcasts that had to spend Christmas away from their facilities due to the good old virus and made a large Christmas dinner. As always food was the main driving force and reason to come together. While cooking and eating people joined and had fun on the day. Drinks and food were exchanged and fun was had!”

-Who thought future safety and security professionals could cook so well?-

- Arnis Cimermanis

-Robert and his trusted companion, Sammy. This is probably what true happiness looks like.-

“On Christmas day I travelled to Purmerend, a city near Amsterdam where my family lives. When I arrived and went upstairs, I have seen that almost everything was ready for the celebration: a beautiful Christmas tree with the present underneath, served table, candles and Jazz music playing on the background. When everyone has arrived (me, my sister, step-father, mother and grandfather), we joined the table and started the feast. Among the dishes was traditional turkey with cranberry sauce, baked potato with cheese and a few salads. Among the drinks, we had a variety of juices, as no-one drinks alcohol in my family.

During the Christmas dinner, we talked, discussed the plans for the next year, and remembered everyone's accomplishments in 2020. After everyone was almost in food-coma, we decided to take a break, clean up the table and proceed with the present exchange. In my family, we have a tradition according to which every family member has to buy a gift to another. Usually, everyone makes a list of the things they want, and then we pick who presents what. This year, I received lots of Korean facial care cosmetics, Japanese shampoos/conditioners and other girl things, just what I needed. After everyone opened their last present, it was a time for the next round of food with a cake and coffee/tea. My mom baked a cake, and it was delicious - called Medovnik. If you're coming from Eastern Europe - you might be familiar with it. When everyone barely could breathe from the amount of consumed food, we decided to play some board games. It was fun, and I won 5 times out of 6 (* blushes). After that, the celebration was over, and I went to watch the animation Soul with my sister and drink matcha. It was an amazing day!”

-Taisiia Garkava

Thank you all for your submissions!

While Christmas was different than usual this year, I was happy to see that all of us found a way to experience joy, regardless of our altered circumstances. Let us hope that the future holds promise, and that the start of 2021 is an auspicious one! I suppose we shall have to wait and see.

In the meantime, Centuria wishes everyone a Happy New Year, full with success and prosperity!

May it be better than the last one!

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