Happy Christmas to all my friends and family around the world! / Feliz navidad a todos mis amigos y familia en todo el mundo!
This year, Christmas has a twist. For the first time ever, I am spending it away from my family and away from my country. I have swapped cold for hot, low ground for altitude, city for desert, home for a telescope control room. Yep, I am writing this on Christmas day from Paranal! Knowing that I couldn’t afford two return flights to the UK in my current unpaid status, I had to choose between going home for Christmas and going home to defend my thesis. Unfortunately, one of these options is mandatory, and so I happily made the decision to keep the boyfriend, Oscar, company for 2 nights during his shift over the festive period. We both learned something from this experience:
Paranal hates Christmas. Or the night staff. Or both.
Sure, there is a Christmas tree in the reception, some decorations up in the dining room, and the kitchen staff are all (begrudgingly, most likely) wearing Santa hats. Sure, they threw some sort of little party in the cinema room in the residencia for the families of the staff that had flown up to be with them. But go up to the control room, and you will not find one whiff of tinsel (tacky or otherwise), no festive-themed food items in the night snack, no awful carols playing on the sound system. Even the main party (on Christmas eve by the way, not even on the main day) started at the exact time the night staff had to go up to set up the telescopes for the night. Apparently it’s the same every year, unless the night staff take matters into their own hands and pre-emptively organise something themselves. In my opinion, this is beyond harsh. Some people actually volunteer to take the Christmas day shift to prevent those with children being taken away from home, which is nothing short of selfless. Even for those who happen to have been rostered on by chance are having to sacrifice spending the day with loved ones without any say in the matter, so that those who are currently stuffing their faces with mince pies and getting a bit tiddly on post-dinner sherry can roll back into the office several days later to find their data nicely waiting for them like an belated, magical gift from Santa. If I was one of the said staff, I think I would be a little annoyed by this.
I had already decided to treat it almost as a non-event this year anyway, knowing that Oscar and I wouldn’t be able to celebrate it properly together. Not to mention that I just can’t reconcile in my head that it’s 32 degrees in Santiago when I feel that I should be wrapped up in layers and having many hot chocolates snuggled up in front of the fire (which to be fair, I could have still done. Would just probably have meant spending Christmas in the hospital getting re-hydrated from an I.V. drip, but at least I would have had my little festive moment)!
As such, I’ve missed carrying out three little Christmas day traditions in particular this year, that I have done for as long as I can remember:
1) Going to the house of my oldest friend, Julia, to exchange presents on Christmas eve (the more random, the better – still using last year’s LFC biros with pride!) and watch a cheesy childhood movie together. Usually ‘Free Willy’ or ‘Home Alone’.
2) Opening Christmas stockings in bed with my sister that our Mum made up for us (the fact we are 27 and 30 years old respectively is totally irrelevant to all of us), and throwing the crumpled wrapping paper at the cat in an attempt to stir some kitten-like Christmas spirit in her.
3) Heading out into the cold Christmas morning to celebrate the main event in Church, which always involves time dedicated to showing off your new toys (adults included).
But it doesn’t matter. My family and close friends are there the other 364 days of the year and time spent with them is just as important to me on the regular days as on the holidays, especially given how often I am overseas now. Even saying all this, I still had my little piece of Christmas spirit up here; I’m still spending it with someone I love, I still got to open a couple of little presents, and I still got to talk to my Mum through Skype. I know I am going home in two months for my defense and I will be able to catch up with everybody else in person – I can still watch ‘Free Willy’ with Julia, I can still go to church, and I can resort to throwing regular paper at the cat. It will just be minus the red and green tinge.
Hasta la proxima,