It seems that every year I reject more and more those things I label American. In recent years, I have been boycotting the idea of Christmas. Since I am not Christian, the religious aspects of it have never really appealed to me. It's the commercialization and the Americanism of Christmas I have chosen to reject. But inevitably, every year, at the last minute, I get sucked in.
This Christmas though was a little different. As I was aimlessly attempting to find my car on the wrong level of the parking garage at Pentagon City, dragging around this enormous box of dishes I had bought for my sister and cursing the store clerk for not heeding my command to pack the dishes in two smaller boxes, I had a stark epiphany.
I should have seen it coming. It had been building up for weeks. You see, this whole season, I had been remembering a time when Christmas was nice. Quite a different memory than those I have had since I have been in the United States. This year, for the first time in a long while, I remembered Christmas in Iran.
Despite having an American mother, Christmas at our house was celebrated in quite an Iranian fashion. Relatives would stop by to visit my mother and to wish her a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And, of course, most of the food served was Iranian (a tradition that has endured as we're having zereshk polo for Christmas eve this year!). Nevertheless, it was a Christmas celebration, and it was… nice.
And for the first time in a long while I began having little flashbacks of Christmas as a child. All those memories which my mind had banished into exile started rushing back. I remembered the first Christmas present I ever got– or the first one I remember getting. I must have been about four years old, and my parents got me this shiny black doctor's bag. Wow! It was the coolest thing I had ever seen.
“These presents are from Santa Claus,” explained my older sister, who was born in the States and having lived there 'til the ripe old age of five, was my resident expert on American Culture. “He comes in the middle of the night and just leaves the presents for the kids. It must be pretty hard having to come to Iran and all, because he lives closer to America. But, he comes to our house because we're friends.”
Well, I knew about Santa Claus. Nevertheless, it was all pretty exciting. Her air of undisputed authority and knowledge on the subject, and her special and personal connection to Santa just inspired my curiosity even more.
“Coming to our house in the middle of the night, that's pretty amazing. Did you wake up?”
“Of course,” she said. “But, I didn't go to see him. You know, he might get upset and decide not to come again. But, I did hear …”
Who cared, really? All I cared about was my shiny black doctor's bag, which got me one step closer to being just like my Aunt the Doctor– yet another aspiration left unfulfilled.
And then, I remembered that on Christmas Eve my mom would always read us a story that started with ” 'twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse,” in that story-voice of hers which to this day manages to amaze me.
Then there were all the Christmassy things that would magically appear around the house. The little Santa cups, with the cavities on the inside that made Santa's lips and beard possible on the outside. We would fill them with whatever liquid we could get our hands on, just for the sheer pleasure of using the cups. And, without us even noticing, they would again disappear, just as magically as they had appeared, until next Christmas.
Then there was this miniature Christmas tree, about a foot tall, with branches so tightly woven, that the ornaments didn't even have to be glued in, although they were. I know because I tried to take them out– quietly, and secretly, in a manner not unlike a psychopath. I knew I would be in trouble if I ruined the Christmas tree, but I just couldn't help it. I needed to figure out how the ornaments stayed in the tree!
And every year we would bring home a great big Christmas tree. In a matter of hours, the smell of pine would engulf the house. There were these Blue — I mean BLUE the color of sapphire — ornaments. They were made of glass and every year my sister and I would go through the ritual of hanging them. Inevitably, we had to hang some of them with make shift hooks — in this case paper clips — because the year before, in our haste to put the decorations away, my sister and I would manage to lose the little hooks that went on the end.
The challenge was to create a well-balanced and color-coordinated tree. Interspersing the blue round glass ornaments, which were my favorite, with the red and green and silver ones, coordinating the different sizes, so the tree did not seem too full or heavy on one side. The lights and tinsel were the finishing touches. We would turn the lights on and they would twinkle, flashing on and off again and again and again. A mesmerizing and beautiful sight. We would sit watching, for about five minutes and then bored and we would go off to do what kids did. We were kids after all. ()
Somewhere between the rush of trying to Americanize myself as a teenager and the rush of having to slave under the commercial concepts of Christmas, I just forgot how much fun it used to be. Although, Christmas continues to be a marker in time — getting me one step closer to the Iranian new year. Now that's a celebration I can really stick my teeth into, so to speak!