Are you a Christmas lover or Christmas hater? Okay. So it’s not so green and red as that; there’s a whole spectrum of possibilities in between. Perhaps you’re someone who likes all the presents but doesn’t like the religious aspect, or someone who highly dislikes how this religious holiday has been hijacked by consumerism. Or maybe it just stresses you out because you don’t want to be alone this Christmas again, or you don’t feel serious enough about your newest love conquest to bring him or her home to meet the family, but don’t know how to say it. Perhaps you disdain choosing between your spouse’s family and your own. Or you know you can’t possibly buy everything on your child’s Christmas list and want to find the balance between the magic of believing and reality. There are so many possibilities, so many expectations, so many memories that scratch at you like taloned nostalgia, that you fall into a state of melancholy.
Although I’ve been plagued by just about every scenario, I happen to love Christmas. Is this because I was born in the Christmas month? (No, hackers. I will not give you my birthday). Is this because my parents went above and beyond the call of duty to create a cozy, magical Christmas for us each year? Or because I grew up attending midnight mass in the Catholic church, and despite my abandonment of Catholicism, still connect with the spiritual ambiance of this annual ritual? Maybe it’s that I grew up in one of the “nine most Christmassy Towns in America.” That’s right. In 2011, my hometown of Solvang made it into Time Magazine’s list of top nine Christmassy Towns.
And what could my town have over your town to be named such a thing? Without researching the article, I can rattle off at least five reasons; Solvang is small enough to feel like a village; Solvang’s quaint Danish architectural vernacular, with occasional thatched roofs and windmills, resembles a little Christmas village one might expect in a fairytale book; they go all out when it comes to Christmas lighting on its tree-lined streets; it has a year round Christmas store called Jule Hus and finally, Solvang is a place where people come to escape, buy gifts and eat fudge, ice cream and pretzels and drink wine. Interested in knowing what the other towns are? Check out this link.
But wait! You say. It’s not even December. Have I lost my marbles by asking you about Christmas in November? In fact, isn’t that one of the problems? Businesses already breaking out the Christmas gear before we’ve even sat down to Thanksgiving dinner? Most years, I don’t even want to see the colors green and red together until December 5th–at the earliest. But this year I’m being smacked by a wave of holiday nostalgia so dauntingly powerful that it belongs on the North Shore of Oahu with a gallant surfer ripping down its side, not ripping its bottomless sorrow through my heart.
You think I’m being dramatic? I dragged my son to a craft store on Wednesday afternoon so we could buy colored glitter, a bag of assorted Christmas shapes, stamps and blank cards to make our own Christmas cards this year. I’ve never made my own cards, let alone even purchased Christmas cards before mid December. And half the time I only get a handful out in time and then recycle the others, because who’s going to send a Christmas Card in January?
I’ve been calling my friends in America and telling them I miss them. I’ve been desiring Rice Krispies and Orange Julius’s from the mall. I’ve been playing Christmas music. It was particularly pathetic today. Not due to any of my actions, listening patterns or phone calls. I just felt like jumping on a plane and going all the way to Solvang to the Jule Hus store to be immersed in the Christmassy insanity of it all. And then while I was there, driving on over to my parental home.
And then my son came home and cleared things up for me. “Mom. What’s Thanksgiving?” I launched into a condensed version of the holiday and discovered he’d learned about it in school today. “And when is it?” He asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Soon.” And then it donned on me why I was feeling so emotionally crushed and distant from the world; why my thoughts were all pointing toward Christmas. It had completely escaped me that TODAY is Thanksgiving. Before you accuse me of living under a clog, let me point out a few things. Thanksgiving is not a recognized holiday over here in the Netherlands. Nothing is closed, besides perhaps the American Embassy. And not one person, the entire day even mentioned Thanksgiving until my son came home from school.
In other words, besides the American expats that band together to honor the day, Thanksgiving as we know it does not exist in the Netherlands. It’s sort of like that old saying: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? I did not hear the Thanksgiving tree falling.
Now I understand the wave that has been pounding me; I was missing all the cultural, commercial and emotional build up to Thanksgiving and all its trappings of family, friends, feasting and free days that is uniquely American in experience.
This explains my fascination with stockings and holiday cards before you have even sliced the turkey. My mind just skipped on over to the next major holiday and started preparing the way, right on down to the red and green glitter glue. I’d like to say I am living freely, unfettered by the greedy minded consumerist mentality of Black Friday that so often overshadows the meaning behind Thanksgiving. That may be true, but I’d rather be pestered along the way than to completely forget about a national holiday that remains a time to come together with friends and family and celebrate each other. So please, have an extra piece of Thanksgiving turkey for me this afternoon, or evening. Take an extra bite of Jeanne’s homemade peach pie, or Mimi’s cheesecake, or whatever your favorite dish may be that connects you back to your childhood. And savor it.