I talked to my mom on the phone today and like all of you that are reading this blog right now, she reads this blog. She said that she read Mike’s recent post about Christmas and wanted answers, she wanted to know what I said in response to his question, what is the meaning of Christmas. I don’t know if this question is interesting to people because it is actually interesting or because it is clearly undefined. First, I must make the disclaimer that I do not mean to say that I represent the general Christian consensus on this matter. In fact, on this trip, I realized that I could more easily pretend to be Jewish based on knowledge than I can pretend to be Christian. This has actually given me a bit of anxiety when we pass a church and people want to go in. I have felt twice on this trip like a fraud. If someone asked me even the simplest of questions about Christianity, I could not answer. I mean I can’t even formulate a hypothetical question here to not answer because I don’t know enough to not know.
But I do celebrate Christmas at home. And I try to celebrate in some way or another when I am abroad, even though I am with my Jewish boyfriend, which as you can imagine always brings up some discussions.
Having been away from home for 4 of the last 6 Christmases, I find that the simple answers to the question, what is the meaning of Christmas have sort of faded. I know what I miss. I miss my family and being inside and it being cold out and eating a big dinner with my extended family. It always sounds so fun when I talk to them and they are all hanging out getting ready to eat. I miss waking up on Christmas morning and having nowhere to be. We stay in and eat breakfast together and watch Die Hard or another holiday movie, like Die Hard 2. We don’t go out to the store or to a friends house or to work. We usually make a fire and sit there. So, from what I miss, I would say the spirit of Christmas is defined by being with your family when it is cold outside and warm inside.
But that sounds too simple. What about the spirit of giving and charity, which my mother so eloquently brought up when I didn’t really answer her on the phone either? Well, I did like getting presents for people, that is/was fun, but that is so fleeting. They open them and then it’s over. What about the spirit of charity? A lot of our friends do extra charity work around the holidays, but I can’t honestly say that being removed from the in your face charity ads in the states that I really even thought about it anymore than I usually do. Except when I was specifically trying to figure out what it was about Christmas that makes it Christmas. There aren’t a ton of people collecting money that I can see and it seems to be business as usual here. The shops are a little more crowded, but nothing too crazy. Thailand was the same. There was a night market and a tree, but nothing special, no extra charity there either. I think France had some of the red pots, but not being a native French speaker, I didn’t get all of it I’m sure.
The point is, I still don’t know. The reason Mike didn’t answer the question in the blog was that I didn’t answer it in real life and even after a long discussion with the other Christians on Christmas, it turned out to be just a discussion and no real answers. I am finding that it means something really different to everyone. I realize how much it means to Mike that he is not a part of it and how much it means to so many others that they are, but it is still just a huge blurry blob of feelings that really is nothing at all. It really makes me think about the power of tradition and I realize that that is the spirit of Christmas–tradition. It is whatever you have done for years and years.
Unfortunately for me, my traditions will never mesh with traveling. This year was close, I was with a fun family drinking and eating at home, but it was still 80 degrees and we cooked meat on the grill instead of turkey or ham and we sat outside until after dark. Similar, but not my tradition. Mike is lucky, his Christmas tradition is transience and solidarity, which are both easy to find while traveling. Now I guess, because I have to end every blog on a positive note, I am glad that I have spent enough Christmases away to know what I miss. It makes it easier to recreate those experiences and times at home on days that aren’t Christmas. Every year when I come home from traveling, we make the following day Christmas, we do the same things that we used to do on the actual day and spend the day as a family and it is great. I get to have the chance to see that it really doesn’t matter what day you do it on, you can always have those feelings. I get the chance to slow and see that you can spend the day with your family or volunteer at a food bank or have a fire and buy people presents on May 10th or Aug 8th, you could even have Christmas everyday. Although I am sure you would start to miss other things, like the good old 4th of July!
Tom presiding over the grill. Xmas 2007 in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Mike at the market. Xmas 2006 in Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Celebrating Xmas the right way with treats and liquor. Xmas 2006 in Mae Hong Son, Thailand.
In the phone booth with “Sizeo,” our xmas tree. Xmas 2005 in Paris.
Unsober on Xmas with Sizeo, Autsy and Rob. Xmas 2005 in Paris.
Mike with Russian. Xmas 2004 (Mike in Goa, India, Azure at home).
If Xmas is a feeling, we celebrated for 2 months with Kim and Adam at the Chateau in St. Julian L’Ars, France. 2002.
Yeah. St. Julian L’Ars, France 2002.