Christmas Through the Years

I cannot recall now if the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Lahore, the beautiful and imposing building I came to love during my childhood and early adolescent years of schooling, had a Christmas tree every December. When I close my eyes, I can see the beautiful red satin bow that appeared on the door of the main hall (a room I imagine every time I read about the Great Hall of Hogwarts) during the month of December. I cannot decide whether there used to be a Christmas tree somewhere on the grounds or not - I can picture a Christmas tree when I try to think back, but I don't know if it is a true memory or something that I have crafted after seeing hundreds of well-decorated trees around me over the years. I do remember clearly, however, peeping into the main hall when classes were in session, or passing by one of the audio/visual rooms and seeing the Christmas play preparation by the Catholic students. 

I have always loved this time of year. I am not sure now if it felt as festive back home - too many years have passed and my memory is rusty. I feel as though Lahore used to light up from within during December, maybe because this month coincided with the settlement of winter in the city. A thick fog became ever present in the evenings. Roadside stands opened up, selling everything from toasted peanuts to hunter beef. Street vendors sold walnuts and pine nuts and raisins by the kilo. Chai-sellers boosted their sales, too. Chicken corn soup stands sprouted up overnight in marketplaces. On Christmas Eve, my father used to buy cakes from the local bakery and we would drive to one of the local churches to visit his friend, Father Morris after evening mass and distribute the cakes. One year, my father bought a beautiful crystal slab with a sterling silver cross embedded into it. I presented it to one of my teachers as a Christmas gift who was overjoyed by it. I only have a handful of these memories, but they still fill me with so much warmth and comfort. Just thinking about the great airy corridors and verandahs of the school fills me with a sense of security. 

When I first moved to America, I started helping out a family friend with her business at the mall while taking classes full-time. I memorized all the Christmas songs on the track that was played from 9AM to 10PM every day in the mall as I worked. I began to hum "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer" absentmindedly at home. Some days I worked well past midnight preparing orders for customers. For two consecutive years, I stayed in the mall until the small hours on Christmas Eve. On those days especially, even with so much Christmas cheer around me, I found myself wishing to be transported to the simpler days of childhood, for the cobbled pathways and perfectly manicured lawns of the Convent and the small L-shaped cafeteria counter where I used to buy my lunch every day. The girls used to call all the men serving at the counter by the same name: "Bernard." Perhaps the man who worked there many years ago was called Bernard, and the name just became associated with whoever was behind that counter. Generations of girls probably called different men "Bernard." Simple times.

Christmas in Utah
UC Davis
I stopped working at the mall during my junior year because of my upper division class-load and plant science research. During the last two years of college, I spent my Christmas break in the lab, extracting DNA and doing PCR and watching ABC's 25 days of Christmas every evening. One year, I went with my college roommate, who has been nothing less than big sister to me, to Logan, Utah to visit her parents. It was the first time I saw real fresh powdery snow, a blanket of it all around me. My roommate, Haena, and her mom made me warm and satisfying meals and we spent long mornings underneath quilts watching Korean dramas. On Christmas Eve, we went to the church and Haena's father, the pastor, introduced me to the congregation. We prayed. They sang. It was beautiful and touching (and so, so, so cold outside - I don't think I have ever worn that many layers. Living in California has spoiled me).

Photo by Rebecca McCue
The other day, while talking about Christmas at work, I suddenly realized that we are already two weeks into the month of December, and I have not had the time to watch a single cheesy made-for-TV Christmas movie! I have come to associate the month of December with general laziness, shopping, and watching television and films guilt-free. I am only now realizing, during my third December with Jahan, that the Christmas season has once again undergone a profound change for me. This year, I will watch all my favorite movies during my two weeks off from work. "Love, Actually" will probably be played multiple times along with "Home Alone." But I am also looking forward to doing a great deal of thinking and writing - an annual winter organization of thoughts and ideas, so to speak - a quiet and reflective Christmas break.