As a child I doubt I could comprehend the notion of sadness during Christmas. My parents did an amazing job of creating a fairy tale atmosphere in the house. The Christmas tree always smelled intensely piney. An electric train ran in a circle around the tree base. Every single room was decorated, even the bathroom where the toilet seat, when closed, showed Santa waving at you as you struggled to get your pants down and when you lifted the lid he had his mittens over his eyes. My brother and I had an artificial tree in our rooms which we decorated with blinking lights and ornaments we had made in school. My mother's favorite were the pipe cleaner-impaled balls of play-dough which one year took on too much humidity during storage and came out looking like a decomposed rodent.
Because my father was a Methodist pastor, our weekends revolved around church activities, my favorite being what I only remember as "The Figgy Pudding Night." The first year our church held this Christmas feast my father painted, on the back wall of the Fellowsip Hall, an enormous fireplace inside which hung a giant black cauldron over a log fire. A steaming figgy pudding sat atop it's holly covered mantle. He painted this scene on wide rolls of newsprint paper so at the end of the season he could roll it up and use it again the next year. And even though my parents didn't have much money, Santa never failed to bring the one thing we wanted most of all, whether a bicycle or a canopy bed frame. The closest I ever got to sad on Christmas was when one of my gifts was new socks or underwear.
It's nearly Christmas and we're nearly six months into our expat experience. I think we're doing pretty well. We know and like our neighbors. We've made some friends, Z likes school and I'm on a first name basis with several of the weekly market venders. We're looking forward to the arrival of C's mother and her husband on Christmas Eve. Still, there's certainly sadness about beng away from home. Not so sad as the year C and I were without friends in Singapore. We splurged on a $30 bare bones hotel room because it had air conditioning and we could pretend it was actually winter. But we're missing many things right now. We're missing snow and mountains. Yeah, sure the Alps are kind of next door, but that's hardly as close as the Cascades were to us. I'm missing the flurry of get-togethers with the kind of friends who appreciate being given a Guinea Pig Olympics or Toilets of the World calendar. We'll be missing my sister-in-law's festive Christmas Eve party full of those professional partiers, the Catholics. I'll miss being a Secret Santa at work and the white elephant exchange at the office party where last year I went home with a Fremont Troll chia pet. I'll miss, and maybe even attempt here, the shrimp cocktail my mother always made for Christmas brunch. We'll miss the post-Christmas dinner drinks with the friends who adopted our schizophrenic, anti-social cat and nursed her through kidney failure. I will even miss the uproarious chaos of visiting C's brother, his wife and their six kids where Z and his cousins played themselves to exhaustion.
But despite all the things we're missing, I'm really appreciating the relaxed pace this year. We've had many more laid back evenings at home enjoying the glow of our insanely expensive Scottish-grown tree. Our wifi sound system means I can stream any genre of Christmas music 24/7, which I do. I've taken on-line shopping to new levels this year rather than wrap, box and stand in line at the post office as I've done in the past. The downside is I won't be using up that moving box wrapping paper I so obsessively collected during the house unpacking. Z and I spent a quiet evening constructing a replica of our Twisp house out of stale graham crackers that had come over in the move. It's an easy walk to the center of town to enjoy the lights and caroling, mulled wine and mince pies at the small German market set up on the grounds of the Abbey. We look forward to singing in the cathedral, watching George and the Dragon performed on Boxing Day and traveling to medieval Canterbury. It's sweet to watch Z get ridiculously excited when he sees a simple string of lights hanging limply inside someone's window. But my heart aches when he tells me how much he misses his Seattle friends.
Eat your heart out
For years my paternal grandmother was often seen wiping her eyes and smiling at the same time during family visits. Happy/Sad she'd call it, tilting her head toward the ceiling and pursing her lips, determined not to let the tears flow. Her kids and grand-kids shortened her emotion to "Sappy". I think for a lot of people, myself included, it's the most Sappy time of year. The world changes, relationships change, Republicans win the majority again (rats). But I'm glad we're here. C and I are incredibly resolute and lucky to be celebrating 22 Christmases together. And now, wherever we're calling home, we can experience the joy of Christmas through the eyes of a child. Sweetness.
Happy Christmas and Merry New Year to you all!