Harriet Hoffler reports on 2016’s 69th Annual Commonwealth and International Student Christmas

Harriet Hoffler, Cumberland Lodge Scholar 2016 – 2018

Twas the weekend before Christmas and all through the park, was the sound of sweet singing and laughter after dark. There were 62 young students from 32 far flung lands, gathered here at the Lodge to see Cumberland Christmas first-hand.

Last weekend marked the 69th annual Commonwealth and International Student Christmas weekend where over 60 students descended on Cumberland Lodge to share their traditions, learn new ones and, as many wouldn’t be making it home for Christmas day, celebrate Christmas early. The weekend began with tours around the beautifully decorated Lodge, followed by drinks, dinner and an extremely competitive (a mere point separated the winners) Christmas themed quiz. Those with eagle ears used their tour knowledge to make that point count (it was Prince Albert- the Ranger of the Park- who popularised the Christmas Tree in case you wondered what that point hinged on).

After a leisurely start to Saturday, we were joined by the captivating John Martin of Pan International Arts, who challenged us to really think about what “the arts” are. He explained the challenges that those who use Pan’s programmes are facing, and showed us short films that illustrated the joy, healing and power that the arts can bring to all individuals. This was followed by a fantastic presentation by Streetwise Opera, who took us all on a journey through their inception, explaining the great work they also do in challenging public perceptions around homelessness and making every individual feel valued and included.

After congregating at the Lodge door after lunch for the annual photo, we went a wassailing (well, we sang carols) around Windsor Great Park to the Royal Chapel, where we were greeted by mulled cider, biscuits and distinguished friends of the Lodge who had joined us for the service.  Lanterns then guided the group through the mist back to the Lodge just in time for a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and even a visit from St Nick!

After St Nick had distributed pudding and presents, and with all feeling fuller than the proverbial Christmas turkey, we decamped into the drawing room for the “festive soiree”. We were treated to a fantastic sketch of Canadian hockey, Brazilian samba dancing, readings, music and a haunting candle-light rendition of Silent Night in 10 languages by the formed-that-weekend Christmas Choir.  Festivities continued well into the night and friendships were firmly cemented. The next morning, Ed led a reflection on Christmas, beautifully weaving in different traditions through readings, folk songs and carols. The weekend ended with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne and a hearty goodbye brunch with promises to keep in touch and come back to the Lodge soon.

After which.. the throngs sprang to their feet, gave their taxis a whistle and away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But the Lodge heard the sound, ere they drove out of sight, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Editor’s note – The over-arching message from the weekend; from the lectures, the reflections and really what Christmas is, was that all of us are linked by our humanity, our humility and our celebrations of each other, however different we are. Each and every one of us who were lucky enough to attend I suspect will happily follow in the footsteps of Scrooge to “honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year”.