I have fond memories of Manouchehri Street in Tehran, where my school was located, in the heart of the Armenian section of Tehran. My school, a French Catholic school, took its name– Jeanne D’Arc–from that famous heroine of France during the Middle Ages who, according to legend, was burnt alive at the age of nineteen. As a young child, during Christmas, the whole street where the school was located was illuminated with lights, Christmas trees were sold at the corner, and all the shops were decorated. As a kid I was dazzled by it all. Being among the good sisters and the mother superior, having to wear a blue uniform and aware of the very religious/catholic side of my school, I remember always wanting to go see the church in our school. As a Muslim student, I was forbidden from entering, though. One day, I came home and told my mother that I wanted a Christmas tree with all the lights and decorations. My father, being a religious man, said absolutely not, but my mother, always the liberal and lenient one in our family, let me decorate my room. So we went and bought decorations and to my father’s dismay, I decorated my room.I just loved Christmas and envied those who celebrated it with all of its glitter. Then we moved to the U.S. During the first few years, we never had a tree but did go to the neighbors’ to see and admire their trees. Oh, how I wished I had one too! Then I became older and got married and had children. So this time, I decided to put up my own tree. My father grudgingly came to our house but, stubborn as he was, refused to even accept gifts. For me the attraction was not the religious part of it but more because of the lights and the sharing of gifts underneath the tree. So I raised my kids to like Christmas as well. During the holidays, they went to Church and sang with the other kids. They also took gifts to the needy. Yet none became religious. To this day, we celebrate Christmas not because of its consumerism which has taken over the whole idea of Christmas in this country (Black Friday- go on a crazy shopping spree, to return everything the day after Christmas) but more for the lights, the ornamanents, and the carols and for what Christmas is all about. There is something fun about Christmas.
I am not sure if any other holiday has so much beauty, though all celebrations have their own virtues. But I guess when you are forbidden to cherish something as a child, it becomes even more interesting. I don’t know what is happening today on Manouchehri Street- whether the lights are still on- or if there are any longer Christmas trees and how many Armenians still live there. My sentiments are, of course, all about nostalgia; I know, but I would want to think that this holiday will bring joy and some common sense to those who want us to forget the past and live for an (admittedly) uncertain future. There is still hope; that is what Christmas should be all about. In this Christmas, “Don’t forget to give and not just receive.”