As a Canadian exchange student longing for some warmer weather, I was delighted to spend Christmas in the city of Exeter. Although I was away from my family I was far from alone and shared the experience with many old and new friends.

Read on to find out more about some of the activities which took place during the holiday season.

Carol Services

A wonderful time at all local Exeter churches, the historical cathedral and even the football stadium. These services are a festive time of singing Christmas carols and listening to stories. It’s a very much a British tradition and all are invited including family and friends who don’t adhere to a particular religion. Carol hits include Hark the Harold Angles Sing, Mary Did You Know and Joy to the World.

Christmas Market

At the end of November, The Cathedral Green is filled with small shops in wooden huts selling everything you could need for the holiday season. The market is a unique sight at the center of town – a real Christmas extravaganza full of fairy lights and live music. I noticed that British people rarely scrambled for last minute Christmas shopping. Perhaps this is because everything you could possibly need is in the market.

Christmas Day lunch

The university hosted what could honestly be the best meal I’ve ever had on Christmas day – there were two desserts! The main course was unbelievable, a vegetarian offering or a traditional English turkey meal, full of stuffing, pigs in blankets (I thought it was genius to wrap sausages in bacon, can’t believe North Americans don’t have those) two types of roast potatoes and all the vegetables you could ask for.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University made an appearance and personally greeted all the students staying on campus for Christmas. Santa was also there to give presents to everyone. After lunch we gathered in the living area to watch the Queen give her Christmas day address. Her voice was calm and steady as she spoke about the previous year. Inside that living room a crowd of mostly international students kept their eyes glued to the screen.


Christmas Day Swim

I wish I had heard of this sooner and I would have gotten to swim in the ocean, on Christmas morning! Exeter is only half an hour away from Exmouth beach and every Christmas morning 11, a crowd gathers at Exmouth before taking a dip in the sea. Perhaps you’ve heard of something similar like the polar bear dip, but back in Toronto this event was cancelled for the first time in 11 years due to the cold weather. It’s nice to know that the ocean is at least warm enough to take a giant group swim at the coldest part of the year, how exciting!

The Weather

To be fully honest, what I appreciated the most this Christmas was the warmth and sun in the city. Hearing about all the ways Canada and the northern states dealt with extreme cold weather made me feel a guilty pleasure of wearing shorts outdoors. I don’t recommend it all the time, but there were a few days where the sunny skies made it feel like summer at Christmas. Altogether, it was a fantastic holiday season in a festive yet calm city I’m beginning to call home.