In my family growing up, Christmas was always a big deal. My dad had lived a less than idyllic childhood and so he relished any chance to make the experience different for us. And as everyone knows, no season holds the potential for magic for a child more than Christmas. Fabulous gifts, notes from Santa, and even his footprints in the fireplace ashes were things that awaited us on Christmas morning. My parents’ labor of love was clearly not in vain because even now as an adult the Christmas season still carries an inexplicable sense of wonder for me.
One of those Christmases as an adult took place in Indonesia, where my husband and I were working for a period of time. Although we were fortunate to have many good friends surrounding us, we obviously didn’t have any family. The weeks leading up to Christmas Day were ones of sadness and dread for me.
I did my best to shop for my family members, knowing that I couldn’t possibly send the things that were actually on their list (and budgeting just as much for the shipping cost as for the actual gifts!). It was hot and rainy outside, our tree was 18 inches tall, and since most people in the country are Muslim, there was no cultural anticipation building around me. I bordered on depression as every day that drew nearer made me more and more homesick. For the first time, it was up to me to conjure up that magical “Christmas Spirit”.
Was my experience of Christmas reliant upon decorated shop windows or carols sung over loudspeakers? Or was it reliant upon me gathering with all of my family and eating my mom’s traditional sweet potato casserole while trading the perfect gifts with my siblings? Could I possibly have a Christmas Day with only my husband, a tiny tree, and a long Skype call?
Christmas came: quiet and unassuming. There was no cultural fanfare, no jolly celebrating, no lights, no snow, no real indication from the outside world that this was a day of any importance. The woman across the alley swept her front stoop the way she always did. Vendors walked by, selling their wares, just like every other Tuesday. And it struck me how much more like the original Christmas Day this was. When Christ was born, when God became one of humankind, it was a completely ordinary day. Only a handful of people even knew. I realized this was the most real Christmas I had ever celebrated. And I realized how lucky I was to see it.
My husband and I stayed home the whole day. Cozy in our tiny house with a scented candle burning, reading books out loud to each other while eating cookies, fortunate to Skype both our families back home and watch each other open the gifts that had been mailed across the world. I smiled at my husband’s voice as he read aloud, surprised and yet content to find out that this was enough. It was so much more than enough. It was Christmas.
Flickr/ Amancay Maahs