Christmas, on the negative side, can be a very difficult time overseas. I want to step outside my gate and see Santa Clauses standing on the street corner ringing a bell; I want to go to the store and find cards and gifts and tinsel and Christmas songs playing. I want to see the lights of Christmas trees glittering in the windows of everyone's house.
Instead, it seems like the middle of September. Slightly cold, but never cold enough for snow. If I mention Christmas to a friend they blink at me a moment and then say, "Oh December 25th, correct?" No decorations. No songs. Even the Christian community, although they celebrate it, do not make as big a deal of as we do in the West. Now, more than any other time of year, our family wishes we were back in America. My Nana makes Christmas the most special day of the year by putting her entire heart, soul, and mind into it. It's hard to be a Grinch about Christmas at Nana's house. It's easy to be a Grinch about everything in South Asia in December.
That's on the negative side. On the positive side, Christmas in South Asia has a novelty that makes it even more special than it is in the West. Have you ever explained Christmas to somebody? Every day I can tell one of my students, friends, or the other teachers at my school about what Christmas means and it never gets tiresome. Candy-canes, Christmas trees, customs, stories, gifts, colors—all of them carry a new meaning. It also helps me to question why we do the things we do. Why, for instance, do we have an evergreen tree? Why does Santa Clause live at the North Pole? How fun it is to teach Christmas songs to believers, and enjoy their appreciation of what we long ago discarded as cliché and over-rated. I went shopping with my friend Isabel a few days for Christmas and she loved it more than I did. Getting to share the excitement of Christmas with my friends give a whole new meaning to the holiday.
My parents also make Christmas very special. On the first day of December we pulled out the suit-cases filled with decorations that we’ve carted around for the last three years and propped them up all around the house. Thomas likes to put the nativity scenes in a circle around baby Jesus, and although it annoys me, Mom loves it and he definitely has the idea down. We went to a plant store to buy a live tree like we do every year, and the variety of trees tempted us to try something different this year. Why get an evergreen when you can get a purple tree or a palm tree or something more eccentric? I voted on a big round cactus, but nobody seemed to see my point of view. In the end we got a small, somewhat pathetic evergreen and decorated it when we got home. Evergreens are never “ever green” with us. Both me and Mom have the opposite of a green thumb and have succeeded in killing almost every plant we’ve ever had, including several trees and cactuses. Outside we have three dying plants, what’s left of a once flourishing garden. We blame the cats.
Right now Christmas music plays and I can see two nativity scenes from where I sit. I’m reminded that Christmas is not really the celebration behind it; Jesus’s birth is special in and of itself, and if our hearts are in the right place Christmas can be special no matter where we are in life.