How living in Birmingham taught me the meaning of Christmas

23 Dec 2021
By Sonam P., Student at Aston University

Whether you’re spending it in uni halls or at home with family, Christmas often takes on a new meaning once you’ve moved out and found your independence. In this article, postgrad Sonam reflects on how her experience of Christmas in Birmingham changed her perspective on what really matters during the holidays.

Moving out has given me many benefits, such as independence and newfound excitement, especially around the festive season.

Like in December, when exams and deadlines were approaching, I’d use the festivities as a form of escapism - indulging in unapologetic materialism and taking it for granted that I had a home with family and friends to go back to. I saw it as a time where I could relive the excitement of Christmas as a child - similar to when I would spend hours circling things in the Argos catalogue, hoping Santa would leave at least one of my top three gifts under the Christmas tree.

With age, I became aware of how much the festive season is centred around gift giving - and receiving. However, when I moved to Birmingham for uni, my perspective on the festive season changed. I was exposed to the extensive levels of homelessness in the city, noticing how much worse it was during the festive season - a time I usually thought of as merry and joyful.

I recall my first year…

The glistening lights hug the buildings that surround me, glowing dreamily in the early evening sky. I can’t help but stare in awe as they light the crowds of people around me, who are all wrapped up in Winter’s uniform of puffer coats, scarves, woolly hats, and gloves. We’re all gathered in unity to celebrate the festivities of December - despite it being so cold your ears tingle and your hands are numb. Nobody seems phased by the weather because we are too busy exploring the German market that takes place in the heart of Birmingham city centre every year.

Well, not everyone.

With a second glance, I notice a flurry of ambulances, surrounding someone on the pavement. ‘What do you think is happening there?’ I ask my friend. But we both just stare at each other, wondering if the homeless person being tended to has got frostbite, or worse, frozen to death amongst the masses of people wrapped up in the festivities around them.

That moment felt like a paradox - while most of us were focused on ticking things off our Christmas list and enjoying the festivities, others were lonely and in survival mode.

That stuck with me.

After that day, I spent some time thinking about what I valued the most during the festivities. And I realised it’s valuing time with my loved ones and giving back to the communities around me in the best way I can - whether that means regularly checking on my friends at uni (do they have a place to go back to?), volunteering at homeless charities, donating food, winter clothes to local charities, and giving what I can if I come across someone homeless.

Now, living out for uni makes the festive season even more special for me. It’s a time to feel grateful for the home and family I have to go back to, and helping others who might not be as fortunate.

If you’re experiencing homelessness over the holidays, there is support out there. Take a look at these resources:

To volunteer or donate, head to:

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I’m a business management student nearing the end of my studies. Beside loving to write in my spare time, I enjoy traveling and exploring.