A typical San Antonio Christmas consists of 70 degree weather and overwhelming traffic from every direction, but it’s still my favorite place to enjoy the holiday. Besides the amazing Tex-Mex, friendly demeanor of citizens and close to perfect weather, San Antonio has one important quality that distinguishes it from the snowy mountain towns of Colorado or the 100-foot Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza: it’s home.
Long before I graduated from Incarnate Word High School, I wanted to move as far away from the city limits as possible. I was born and raised in San Antonio, and the idea of moving resonated deeply with me.
I had always loved my English classes and knew I wanted to work in media – or at least an industry in which I could write. I applied to 10 universities, many were in Texas due to financial reasons, but I was willing to move anywhere.
However, things didn’t go according to my original plan and I spent the next four years at The University of Texas at San Antonio. Admittedly, a large part of me was devastated. I had dreams of leaving the city to grow and discover new exciting environments. I found myself trapped in familiarity while most of my close friends moved to different states. I attended one of the most competitive high schools in the city, so I felt that I was being left behind – perhaps I wasn’t good enough, smart enough or ready to leave the comfort of the Alamo City.
My first two years of college were spent driving to Austin every other weekend to visit my best friend. As my Saturday nights flew by, I began to feel more and more that my university lacked the true young adult experience I lusted over. I spent weekdays in my Northside bubble anticipating escape, unwilling and unable to venture out into my city.
As my junior year crept up on me, I realized something had to be done beyond fueling my body with toxins every other Saturday. I needed something more fulfilling.
During my sophomore year, my grandmother passed away. It was an incredibly hard blow for my family’s morale. When the holidays arrived, my mother decided it was best if we skipped our traditional San Antonio Christmas. No tamales, no River Walk lights, no presents under the tree and nothing that would bring any familial memories to mind. We booked a week-long vacation to London, England and I was looking forward to a white Christmas.
My family turned our tragedy into an opportunity for exploration. Not only did I finally get to leave San Antonio, I experienced the holiday in a completely different way. We arrived around on Christmas Day to a charming hotel: The Coach and Horses. The bar was already filled with drunk patrons and the owners were nice enough to let us have a traditional, British Christmas dinner with their family.
Turkey, Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes, braised red cabbage and roast parsnips – not the typical San Antonio dinner I had become accustomed to over the past 19 years. I remember staring down at my plate vying for my favorite holiday meal: tamales, chile, Spanish rice and refried beans. Although the food in London was filling, it lacked the flavor and spice of the Alamo City.
We did the most touristy things possible during that trip: London Eye, National Gallery, St. Paul’s Cathedral, etc. The rest of our days were filled with museums, shopping and more sight-seeing. The weather was not as picaresque as I had seen in rom-coms like “Notting Hill” or “The Holiday,” but there was a feeble essence of snow on the icy streets. I marveled at how bustling and alive the city was, and managed to stay as warm as possible. It was the most unique way to date that our family has spent Christmas.
We returned to San Antonio on New Year’s Eve and I could not have been happier to be back.
The following year, in January of 2012, I decided to study abroad in England at Keele University in Stoke-on-Trent. I was finally ready to leave San Antonio for more than a week and experience a completely different culture. But what transpired over the next four months was hardly the ideal getaway I had in mind.
Stoke-on-Trent is nothing like London. It’s a small village and one of the most depressing places I have ever been. In a 2013 compilation by MSN Travel UK, Stoke-on-Trent was deemed one of the top ten worst places to live. The blurb sums the city up perfectly with, “Once a byword for industry, ingenuity and fancy stuff made out of clay, Stoke-on-Trent has more recently become a prime example of industrial decline and stagnation.”
The sun appeared only a handful of times during the four months I was there. The people were generally unpleasant and displeased with their lot in life. I lived in a house with four other girls from France and Canada. We were lucky enough to live in a house but we were without Internet or television. We began to rely on different forms of entertainment, such as reading and writing, but I became depressed. Not only was the food bland, it lacked any kind of flavor. Indian food was the closest I could get to a rich, delectable meal.
My mother shipped packages to me every once in a while filled with San Antonio goodies such as Spanish rice, refried beans, tortillas, salsa and various sweet treats. I cooked a few meals for my roommates with it and even played a genre of music I was never fond of while I lived in Texas: country. I downloaded all of George Strait’s greatest hits and dreamed about the day I would finally be back in my hometown.
As I graduate from UTSA this month, I find myself reflecting on my decision to stay in San Antonio. I’ve realized it was the right one. Not only because I’ve been able to stay close to friends and family, but also to the warm and inviting nature of its citizens even under stressful circumstances. Sure, the traffic to and from shopping centers can be stressful throughout the holidays, but if you ever feel the need to get away from it all, the River Walk lights downtown can offer an easy reminder of a peaceful holiday season. For culture or something unique, head to Southtown for a quick bite or the latest art show.
Although I may never have a white Christmas here, I have my tamales, my chile, my family and fairly agreeable weather to make me feel right at home during the holidays.
Jackie Calvert, 22, is a recent graduate from The University of Texas at San Antonio. She has a B.A. in English with a focus on Creative Writing. Although she adores her city, the travel bug has bit her more than once since her trip abroad. You can read her not-so-serious tweets on life at @MademoiselleJC.