First and foremost, Merry Christmas! Peace and goodwill unto you and yours.
I have been blogging recently about my experience of Christmas in the Land-of-No-Christmas a.k.a. Israel. While the overwhelming irony of this situation is almost comical, there really is a palpable lack of spirit of the Baby Jesus variety in the Holy Land. Christmas can be found being kept by minority populations of Arab Christians in little pockets here and there, but due to the discrimination that they have faced by Muslim majorities and the Jewish bureaucracy their existence and therefore their traditions become more and more subaltern as the majority populations grow and dominate.
Celebrating ones faith or cultural traditions as a minority is quite different than just getting swept up in the flow of the cultural celebrations as a member of the majority population. You have to work at it. You have to want to keep the holiday intact, sometimes at great personal expense. I have a friend in Toronto who has to jump through hoops and perform major feats of reorganization to be able to take a break from her strenuous academic schedule to celebrate Rosh HaShana every September. It’s not easy, but as I have found, it is totally worth the effort, the time and the investment to keep the spirit of ones culture alive as an expat.
All pretty heavy and involved for Christmas Day, I know. But don’t worry, here’s where it gets light and cheery.
I have found that it actually doesn’t matter that the rest of the country sees December 25th as being just the same as any other ordinary day of the year. It doesn’t matter that there are no Christmas carols playing on the radio, or that no one has decorated homes. It doesn’t matter that cafes and restaurants aren’t serving traditional Christmas fare, or that there is a better chance of Syria and Lebanon declaring a new-found love for Israel than waking up to a fresh blanket of snow for Christmas morning. It doesn’t even matter that my husband worked both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Why? Because Christmas is what you make it, and while it might be easier, more comfortable and require much less imagination to have it made for you, if the spirit lives in your heart then none of the exterior peripherals have any bearing on how you nurture that spirit.
This might sound all flaky and naive. So, if you can’t take it from me, take it from someone of much more serious stature:
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him; but his own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived in that respect upon the total-abstinence principle ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!
Surely if old Ebenezer could do it in the face of major identity crisis and re-imagining of self, I can carve out a little space for Christmas in the diaspora.
And so, what I have learned with the passing of this first Christmas away from my family, away from the traditions of my childhood, outside of my own culture is that even as a minority love, strength of character and conviction trumps status quo if you believe. What a beautiful gift to receive on Christmas Day in the morning.
Love, Light and Life & Merry Christmas!