What does Christmas mean to you? No, I mean, what does it really mean to you?
This question has been swirling in my mind since early November and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how differently we all look at this season/holiday/festival.
For some of us, it’s a time to unwind, take a holiday. For others it means more work, more family pressure and more stress. Or simply a combination of all of the above.
Of course, I know what Christmas is supposed to mean. My strong catholic upbringing took care of that- The birth of the child Jesus, the saviour of the world.
What Christmas actually meant to me, seems to have taken on different forms every couple of years.
As a young child, my biggest thrill was the presents Santa left me on Christmas morning. Savagely tearing them open was an instant ticket to the top of the world!
Come my pre-teen and teeny years, the season was peppered with my desire to socialize at one or more Christmas dances; after midnight mass (also a matter of great fashion and social concern). Shaking a leg until the wee morning hours and then brunching with friends always made me feel great. Still does. 16-year-old me detested having my parents chaperone my Christmas specials, but today, I’m glad they did.
My early 20’s were a constant tug of war between career, relationships and wanting to have the perfect Christmas. It usually played out with a very groggy, hungover me, dragging myself out of bed to Christmas lunch at grandma’s. Oh, and not before fulfilling the Goan tradition of Konsuar- distributing and exchanging homemade sweets with neighbours and family in the vicinity. Awoken by nagging requests from my parents to be the delivery girl; I wasn’t the friendliest face around.
As my 20’s progressed, so did my thinking. I started asking uncomfortable questions about religion, politics, family and life in general. The answers I got were even more uncomfortable. The rebel in me broke out; I met and married a German and at 29, moved to Hamburg.
This may sound fairly non-rebellious. But for me, a Goan, Indian catholic girl, an only child; marrying a non-catholic, European and moving halfway across the world; was not the expected course of events. Suffice to say I have been and still am the topic of much tea-time gossip. Thankfully my parents and family are darlings and have not just come to terms with my decisions, but joyfully celebrate my differences.
My first Christmas in Germany had me completely gaga. The fairy-tale like decorations, quaint little Christmas markets and the ever-flowing hot red wine made me dizzy with delight. The love hormones accelerated my growing fascination and it was two more Christmases before I began questioning again. This year.
I saw commercialism all around me, capitalism shouted out from every street; while the poor and homeless struggled to find a suitable corner. The focus of the season seemed to be only on getting bigger and better gifts, the more the better. Amazon and similar services, promise delivery until the 11th hour.
It isn’t all bad though. The focus on family takes first place for most. The holidays are spent together and most shops are shut. You use the time to bond and re-connect with loved ones. Christmas menus are also pre-decided; usually the same every year; the family watches Christmas movies at home, cooks together or plays silly board games.
To answer the question I posed to myself in November, I first listed what is important to me during Christmas- family, music, church and a single present exchange (not 6-8 per person as seems to be the norm). I realized what truly matters to me; what I need to do in order to feel happy is to GIVE. In any form. It is in giving that I feel most at peace. And strangely, also at the receiving end. Am I making any sense to you? I hope so…
So how would I give this Christmas? I had a couple of options up my sleeve. Some went south and others are still playing out.
For one, I continued my activity Advent Calendar tradition and used my blog to reach more people. The results have been heartening.
Then against all odds, I convinced my Husband to have an Advent party for close friends. We had them over from as far away as China and India. It was an evening of deep conversations, lots of hot red wine and Pav bhaji (an Indian delicacy). Many confided it was the first time in a long time they felt truly Christmas-y.
This next one wasn’t a Christmas giving decision, but one we took a few months ago. We no longer needed to answer the question- do we want to bring a child into this crazy world. We had a new one- how do we bring up a child in the best way possible? My body is in the process of giving. As I come to the close of my 9 months as an expecting mum; I am fascinated by how this life inside of me is growing. I am bursting with anticipation to see how it turns out.
My fourth act of giving was the one that seems to have given me most food for thought. Funnily enough it has to do with food.
Germany celebrates the 6th of December as St. Nikolaus where kids and adults alike leave clean, polished shoes outside their door and St. Nick rewards them with a tiny gift. Dirty shoes and bad behavior are bestowed with coal and potatoes.
So, I decided to play St. Nick to the 16 families living in our building. I was beside myself with joy as hubby and I tip-toed through six floors and left each flat a bag of freshly baked cookies.
A few days later, our Portuguese landlord asked us if we were the ones behind the cookies. He chuckled when we answered in the affirmative. He said he knew it had to be us, because he had entertained several panicky calls from his tenants describing the white paper bags at their doorstep. They wanted to know if it was safe to eat the cookies or not. Could they be poisoned?
My first reaction was flashes of annoyance and disbelief. All we tried to do was make these people smile. It hit me hard that an act of goodness was met with suspicion and the looming question of whether another intended them harm! This made me immensely sad. But I understood. In our world of today, who’s to say you can trust anyone? Unassuming vans have mowed down innocents; children have been bombed out of their houses and millions are suffering injustice.
Perhaps if we all start to give a little; even a teeny-tiny wee bit; we might change this world of corruption. Maybe then our thoughts won’t need to travel the poisonous way. Our children might have a chance at a decent life and we might preserve what’s left of our unstable environment.
That for me, I realize could be the true meaning of Christmas. Each of us giving. Each of us receiving in the act of giving. And thus, being saviours of our fragile world.