Archive for Thursday, December 23, 2004

Bringing the meaning of Christmas home

December 23, 2004

Even as I was growing up in a Muslim country, I knew what the true meaning of Christmas was. For a country with many religions, Christmas was still observed as a national holiday; despite a Christian population of only 6 percent. I grew up in a Hindu family that never celebrated Christmas. But every Christmas, I would join friends going to the traditional "open houses" at the homes of people celebrating Christmas for food and merry making. During each of the different religious holidays, homes are opened to friends and family for visiting and to share in the sumptuous indigenous food the hosts served. It is like a progressive party, except that the people celebrating the holiday provided the food.
Most people, including children, knew that Santa Claus was not the "reason for the season" like he is here. I was very disillusioned when I first realized how commercialized Christmas is here and the effort put into recognizing the day for everything except the birth of Christ. Santa, Grinch, reindeers, Frosty and many other things have replaced Jesus on Christmas.
I think the spirit of Christmas is also lost in the shopping and giving of presents. The giving of presents symbolizes the gift of Christ to us as an act of unselfishness born out of love. Today, we give presents because we feel obligated. I remember my friends never demanded a particular gift for Christmas. Kids demand what they want. We ask kids what they want for Christmas, not what they are giving their family. They write notes to Santa and make sure their family knows what they want.
Christmas here is often referred to the most stressful time of the year and also a time where many people go into debt. It is sad that is what Christmas has become to some people. It is supposed to be a time of giving from the heart and embracing the "peace on earth" that Christ had brought us. Unfortunately, many choose not to revel in that kind of Christmas.
Last year, I went to my homeland for Christmas for the first time since high school. My family had never celebrated Christmas, so my wife and kids decided to treat them to a Christmas celebration as it's done here. We bought some Christmas ornaments and stockings to take to my family. It is very expensive to buy items like that there.
My kids had never experienced Christmas outside of this culture. I was thrilled for them to have an opportunity to experience Christmas in a different country and culture. One thing that had not changed since I left was the mid-90 degree weather. Live trees are not available there and most of the fake trees come prepacked with ornaments. It's a good thing we brought a few extra ornaments to add authenticity to the tree. The city was decorated with beautiful lights and adorned with wreaths and decorations. Every shopping mall was colorfully decorated and Christmas music filled the air. The only thing that was odd was the fact we were shopping in shorts and T-shirts. One mall claimed to have the tallest Christmas tree in Southeast Asia. It was indeed a beautiful and captivating tree to look at.
My family was excited for their first-ever Christmas and curious as to how the day was celebrated. They wanted a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings, and my wife was appointed the chef. We found the turkey at a specialty supermarket and most of the other items to complete the dinner. The pressure was on my wife to provide the Christmas meal that they had only seen and heard of in movies. She came through, and my family ravished the turkey and everything in sight. There were no leftovers. After the meal, it was time to open presents. This was especially exciting because my nephews and nieces have never gotten any present for Christmas. It was a very special treat for them. They didn't know how to handle themselves during the week when they saw presents under the tree with their names on them. It was interesting that despite the reference to Santa, my nephew and nieces never mentioned him during the present exchange.
My children read the Christmas story in Luke to their cousins before we opened the presents. When it was time, my nephews and nieces were so elated and beside themselves for the presents that they got. They experienced the sense of joy and elation that came from being a part of something they had never experienced, getting presents on Christmas. They didn't care what they got because they had not asked for anything. They were also thrilled to share an "American holiday" with their "American cousins." My parents were just grateful to have the whole family under the same roof, even though it was not the religious holiday they observe. As I reminisce on that day, I remember it as special because we celebrated the day with all the festivities that we are accustomed to here but without forgetting the spirit of Christmas. I looked at the joy the children were reveling in, and everyone in my family given a rare opportunity to share the special day together; it made me feel that it was truly the most wonderful time of the year. Merry Christmas everyone.

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