Thursday, December 19, 2013

Finding Christmas

Christmas has always been a magical time of year. I remember the excitement fluttering through my body as a young child, desperate for that last few days to pass so it would finally be Christmas morning. I remember the gatherings with family, the endless parade of things to nibble and snack on even when you had no room left. I remember the reluctant trudging through the snow with family in the dark on Christmas Eve to sing on doorsteps only to be happy we did it because of the smiles it brought and the way Christmas was that much closer when we came home. I remember plates of treats dropped secretly on neighbours’ porches before running like made into the darkness before we were caught in the act. I remember wrapping presents in a secluded location so little eyes wouldn’t see the surprise in store. I remember barely being able to stay awake Christmas Eve until everyone was finally asleep and stockings could be filled. I remember waking up at the crack of dawn to get a turkey into the oven so we’d be able to have the big dinner later that day and eating chocolates for breakfast with a mandarin orange(healthy?) chaser.  I remember laughing about nothing and simply celebrating being part of a family. I never thought it would be any different.
This year, thousands of miles away from all our family, Trevor and I are struggling to capture that magic. So many things are different. This year will likely not be our best effort at recapturing the traditions of the past. Less than a week before the big day, we have yet to get our cards sent. There is one wrapped gift under the tree. Today it reached 40 degrees Celsius (which is 104 Fahrenheit). That is decidedly unfestive. Neither of us really feels like shopping, baking Christmas treats, playing board games…any of it. After searching for an inexpensive turkey, we finally found one last weekend and we are determined to bake it next week no matter what. I will make some pies; we’ll prepare all the usual feast trimmings and share it with some friends. But it’s not the same. We are realizing there are some key elements missing in our celebration model.
#1 FAMILY – this is the big one. Christmas is meant for sharing. Without family, particularly children, it’s hard to get excited. We get hooked on their imagined excitement over the gifts we have carefully selected to show our love. We plan our activities around their enjoyment (and interests/attention span). This year it will phone calls and possibly skype, and some rather late packages once the rest of the parts required finally arrive.
#2 SNOW – Never thought I’d miss winter. But I’m realizing a lot of our Yuletide abandon is a product of the cabin fever we have just remembered is starting. We want to show the world that even though it’s bitterly cold, our car doesn’t want to start, and the sun is suddenly allergic to our planet, we will not go without a fight. We will push back the darkness with lights and decorations, parties and presents. We will celebrate the knowledge that life is so much more than winter and the sun will come again. Over here, the sun is in abundance right now. We’d almost like a brief reprieve. Cooking a turkey in my house/brick oven seems ludicrous. On a day like today I’d like Christmas dinner to be ice-cream, followed by floating in an unheated pool.
#3 FOOD – This is also weather related, sadly. One of the staples of Christmas is all the baking. As we ease into summer that really isn’t a powerful urge. Without the caloric demands of winter, overindulgence seems like a recipe for indigestion and discomfort. It would be messy and sticky. But we’re going to keep our fingers crossed and make an attempt next week anyway. I’m starting to think a spatch-cocked turkey cooked on the BBQ would be genius. Perhaps next year. Of course, that would mean finding a BBQ by next year, but we’ll see what the New Year brings.
#4 MUSIC – For the first time in decades we are without a Christmas concert to attend. No recitals. No choir performances. I find myself craving the outlet. I used to get tired of the Christmas carols in Canada, the incessant repetition of Christmas music in the stores, on the radio, even at church. Not this time. We’ve got a serious Christmas music deficit happening and I find myself craving each chance to sing a carol. I almost bought myself a ukulele the other day because I wanted to learn to play it and be able to sing some carols to lighten the mood. There is something affirming in making music that celebrates the Saviour and the love of Christmas. I’m missing the outlet desperately.

Perhaps I need to clarify a few things before this becomes a pathetic sombre plea for rescue. It’s really not. We’re doing pretty well. We don’t have the resources to go mad with the d├ęcor this year on a student budget. But I did find a cheap little tree and it’s adorable. I did my best and it really helped bring some Christmas cheer into the house. And I did find a beautiful nativity that makes me smile each time I see it. And I remembered the tiny nativity I squirrelled away in a tin for the journey over here after having completely forgotten it. It was the best surprise ever. And we’re finding ways to gradually choose which traditions we can manage over here and which ones need to go into storage for a while. Adjustment is always hard. The things we will miss most are not easily remedied. We cannot hug our loved ones. We cannot stay up late with them watching Christmas specials. We cannot gather Christmas day and work on crafts at the table, laughing over our efforts. But we can remember. And be thankful we have been so blessed to have such wonderful memories and loved ones. And we can do better next year.  Because that’s the magic of Christmas. We get to do it over and over again, getting closer to perfect each year. And simple is always a good starting point.