My sister and I sat at the top of the stairs, enchanted by the glow of Christmas lights radiating from the tree in the living room. Our skin tingled with the promise of gifts carefully arranged below the branches of the tree and our eyes were wide with anticipation. Forbidden to wake our parents before we saw at least one neighbor’s windows illuminated, we struggled to contain the enthusiasm that threatened to overwhelm us. I dared Katy to sneak a peek but she refused. Though I called her a baby, she was no dummy. We both knew we’d be in BIG trouble if we were caught examining the presents before the official inauguration of Christmas morning. Eventually I braved up and crept downstairs for a quick glance. “Oh my god, Katy, I think I see the Barbie camper!” I whispered as I raced back upstairs to my sister’s side. It was then that we broke the cardinal rule of Christmas and jumped into my parents’ bed, prying open their eyelids despite the fact that the sun wasn’t even up yet.
The rhythm of my childhood holidays was as sure and comforting as the tides. After reading the note “Santa” wrote and shouting thanks for the new toys and books, we walked over to my grandparents’ house for the second Christmas celebration. This holiday was always a major event. Gigantic multi-colored bulbs draped the eaves of the rooftop, hand-decorated stockings dangled from the fireplace mantle, and carols crackled from the old hi-fi in the living room. Having grown up poor, Christmas was my Poppy’s chance to celebrate the abundance of a lifetime of hard work and frugality. (His brother, my Uncle Ted, never could shake the habit of asking for toothpaste, socks, and shaving cream for Christmas.) The eldest girl in a family of thirteen children, my grandmother never got the hang of cooking for a smaller family. She served so much food that there was hardly room to set down our plates.
The spaciousness of my Christmas experience this year has been a vacuum for memories of Christmas Past. I feel like a ghost myself, rattling my chains as I wander through the faded images of years long gone. In my attempt to reconstruct this idealized past I decorate my flat with Christmas lights, watch every holiday movie the video store has in stock, and run the air conditioner at full blast so I don’t notice it’s 85 degrees outside. I struggle and push, wondering why the Christmas spirit just won’t fill me up.
In a last-ditch effort to Save Christmas, Sam and I head to the movie theater to watch “Fred Claus”. Somewhere in the midst of car horns honking, palm trees waving, and popcorn & diet coke, I realize that there is nothing about this Christmas that’s Christmas. And there’s nothing about it that isn’t. On the drive home we sing along with the latest Bollywood hits (Sam is teaching me the lyrics) and later grab some Goan prawn curry for dinner. I’m about to switch off the lights before bed when I realize this Christmas night has felt just right, in ways I never imagined it could.