No matter which way you look at it, spending the Holidays away from your family is rough. I mean, if you like your family. I happen to love mine, so this time has been a rather unfortunate one for me. I know being here is something I've chosen for myself but that doesn't mean that sometimes it isn't a little difficult. I'm not crying myself to sleep every night but something recently has taken up residence in the back of my mind all day, something a little mournful. Perhaps its the void of Christmas Carols being blasted in every shop, the tension one builds up when you can't yell at holiday traffic or missing the vicarious joy of seeing wee children parade around the mall in their Sunday best on the way to visit Santa. Whatever it is, the fact still remains that I do miss Christmas.
As I am not Christan, over the years I have had to ferret out the reason why I celebrate Christmas or more so why at this time I am now struck with a pang of longing to kiss the ground at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. I have thought much about this and I have realized that there were two Christmastime events my family attended every year of my childhood which profoundly shaped my views of this season. Firstly, we always went to the Gospel Christmas at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. This is the most joyous thing I've ever experienced. Glamorous women in sequins and big hats and men looking dapper in suits with shiny shoes filled the audience. During the concert, they jumped to their feet, clapping and hollering in agreement with the music, their elated lack of composure belying their formal clothes. All the while, the singers on stage, ranging from venerable old women to feisty young kids, sing their hearts out in praise and love, swaying to the music in their long robes which make them look like angles. It is impossible for one's heart not to swell listening to the beautiful voices and watching the sheer joy of it all. As a child I figured that Christmas can't mean anything bad if all these people love it to the point of distraction and celebrate in such an ecstatic way. We also went to the Alliance Theater's A Christmas Carol play every year. While the whole experience was magical as a child, there was something about the Ghost of Christmas Present that really struck a chord with me. In this version, he was dreadlocked and sported a kilt, quite a contradiction of fashions, I know. But it was his jovial manner and his bagpipe that really did it. Whenever he encountered a bickering couple or angry man on the street, he would blow a tune into his bagpipe and snow would fall from the sky. Then the grumpy people, touched by his benevolence via song, would be instantly lifted to smile and wish others a merry Christmas. I must confess, the story of The Christmas Carol has touched me greatly for some reason. I like it's lesson of redemption and love and the boy Ignorance and the girl Want have haunted me, perhaps part of the reason why I volunteer so much with kids. But at any rate, these two Holiday events have made me view Christmas with then lens that it isn't about presents, throwing elbows at the mall or even the birth of Jesus, but rather my homespun philosophy is that it's about joy, love and taking time to really appreciate our fellow man. (Cheesy, I know, but never the less...)
My most lasting and wonderful memories of Christmas are the trips I've take with my family during the Holidays. Wandering through snow dusted Christmas markets, laughing until my belly ached in cozy restaurants while being eyeballed suspiciously by sober Europeans, gazing around overwhelming museums and ornate palaces and even squabbling with my dear Sister over the exact location of "the line" between our separate sides of the tiny beds we always share- they're all what defines Christmas for me: family and love.
This year isn't really that desolate- I will celebrate with my friends in UB (I've promised my Grandmother a Christmas morning Bloody Mary in her honor!) and this isn't the first time I've spent this month in a foreign country. But last time I was in England, holed up on the second floor of Starbucks, laughing with friends over gingerbread lattes and watching the people of Norwich do their Christmas shopping. The Holiday spirit was in the air there, where as here it took some very precious Holiday Greeting cards from friends and family to remind me of the season. But that's the thing- I know that my friends and family love me and think of me just as much as I them. This year I'll spend Christmas with my new friends, surly laughing just as hard as I have before during this season. And, in true Holiday spirit, I know I'll see the crowded and polluted capitol through the rose and green colored glass of the season. It will be a new and different sort of Christmas, not without it's own excitements, but one when I will certainly carry gospel singers, the sound of bagpipes and loved ones close to my heart.