25 12 2009

Travelers.  Wanderers.  Immigrants.

We were surrounded by the unfamiliar and my soul was longing for something to hang on to in this place where all of my cultural cues were misplaced.  The songs were unrecognizable.  There was no snow.  It was midnight and the neighbors were banging on the radiators upstairs in jubilation.  It was Christmas morning and I was thousands of miles away from home.

In the following years as I became acclimated to my surroundings, I began picking up on the nuances of  Noche Buena.  Families would gather late – for a huge meal before going to midnight mass.  It was one of two nights all winter that the heat in the apartment building would be on all night long.  I had to come up with a way that we could stay up late too – albeit our family gathering was only the four of us…sometimes more depending on whatever ex-pats we could host.

Each trip Stateside in the following years, I would visit a favorite children’s book store and leave with armloads of stories about Christmas.  That stack of books became the center piece of our attempt at making the wrong feel right. We had something to keep us up till midnight.  We could eat and we could read together as a family.

Once permanently removed from the foreign back to the familiar – it all fell apart again.  Here there was too much to do.  Almost too much family but we couldn’t say that outloud without great misunderstanding.  We missed the huddling together to read but Best Boy and Shop Girl were churlish teens by then and bored with the whole routine anyway.

Somewhere – sometime – we caught the NPR stories.  We replaced our books with the radio stories that meant Christmas to us.  Do yourself a favor…sit…be quiet…and listen.  That is what Christmas is about anyway.  Listening with our hearts.  My Christmas gift to you – a link.

‘Twas the night before Christmas

24 12 2008

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds…

Our first Christmas Eve in Spain was a mere five months after arriving.  We had gone to bed at “normal” hour – the just barely one year old and the two and a half year old asleep.  We hadn’t purchased a bed for ourselves yet and were using a two-seater foam couch that flopped down on the floor to make a bed.  

All I remember is being startled awake by an incredible racket at around midnight. The neighbors upstairs were banging on the radiators which sent the sound waves right down the wall to where are heads were.  Then people shouting and the sound of a million fireworks.  “‘Twas the night before Christmas” poem only works in some cultures.  What was going on?

Well, stupid American…it was Christmas.  By the following year, I’d gathered enough cultural cues to understand what surrounded one of the most important nights of the year – Noche Buena.  Families gather around the table starting at 9 p.m. or so for a spectacular feast…eat for two or three hours and wait for the magic hour of midnight.

Many will then gather to go to midnight mass.  The world is awake. There are no children all snug in their beds.  At least not for a couple of more hours.  And you quickly learn that you should not be making much noise on Christmas morning till well into the afternoon.  

It took a number of years for us to be comfortable in our own space where those two cultures collide.  We started doing a rather elaborate fondue soirée gathering a number of ex-pat family and friends to make it “feel” right. Then after a long time of fighting over who’s fork was who’s in the pot, we’d gather to listen to some special books and stories we had collected. Any time we were in the States, more tomes would be hunted for the Christmas collection.  

It all worked there.  Once we got back to the States, it started to feel strange to keep some of these traditions.  There is such a thing as reverse culture shock.  The time to adjust in and out of cultures is in proportion to the time spent in the “new” culture. Maybe because we are in yet another “new” culture that I am struggling.

A culture of a widowed mother, a married daughter who now has to adjust to her own “new” set of in-law traditions and expectations and on and on it goes.  Life is neither static – nor predictable.

Here we are – not even sure we will be able to travel to see my mom tomorrow. They are calling for another 3″ today and another 3″ tonight. Right now there has a been a warm up and it’s raining and everything is all heavy, melty and very slick.

It is a special day but a day nonetheless.  Having a loving family – gathered or not on this day or tomorrow – is enough.  After all, isn’t Christmas really about someone being out of their element?