Happy Christmas from the Covent Garden General Stores
On this day in 1987, I started on a grand adventure. I left Pennsylvania to spend six weeks in London. Upon my return, I relocated to California, where I have lived since 1988.
Growing up in a small coal-mining town, tradition was very important, especially at Christmas. I miss those traditions that I took for granted all those years ago. I can’t even count on being able to maintain the silly little traditions that I used to keep when I had my apartment.
But this isn’t the first Christmas that I spent without a permanent residence. In 1987, I decided to leave Pennsylvania and move to sunny California, after a six-week detour to London. I loved spending the holidays alone in cold, gloomy London, where it started to get dark every day around 3 PM. It was almost like a Dickens story come to life. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I walked through the city, exploring different areas and watching people prepare for the holidays. I kept returning to Oxford Street, festooned with rows of colorful holiday decorations that spanned the street. Just looking up at the festive lights made me happy. Also, the main branch of the Topshop was on Oxford Street. I bought a floor length fake fur leopard coat there that looked like a big bathrobe when I got it back to America. I hung out in Harrods a lot, after I found out I could walk to Knightsbridge from my “flatlet” near Victoria Station. I bought my Christmas dinner there – a small baked chicken, a plum pudding and some forgotten casserole. At the Covent Garden General Store, a shop filled with useless trinkets and Christmas decorations, I bought little gifts to take back to friends. I didn’t buy anything for myself there, except a big red plastic shopping bag emblazoned with a photo of Santa and the words “Happy Christmas.”
On Christmas Day, I watched the Queen’s holiday greeting on the tiny television in my flat. I made calls to friends back home, listened to Christmas music, hung up my red Christmas bag, and strutted around the room in my leopard coat/bathrobe. It was a cold dreary day, but I had lots of tea to keep me warm. I watched holiday pantomimes on television, read the Christmas cards that friends sent from Pennsylvania, and celebrated my good fortune of being able to spend Christmas in another country.
I still have that red bag with rosy-cheeked Father Christmas. I recently bought a leopard jacket at Thrift Town for four dollars, a new phone with unlimited minutes, and I still have last year’s holiday purchase of two CDs of heavy metal Christmas songs. I’ve got tea and a Harrods cup. Maybe I’ll be able to get a new television so I can watch the “Yule Log” on Christmas morning and play my DVD of Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge. And I can celebrate my good fortune of still being alive twenty-five years later. Time to continue the traditions.