Christmas is an American holiday. Jesus might have been born in Bethelehem and St. Nick a Byzantine, but Christmas… oh see, Christmas… that’s as American born as Hugh Hefner & Ted Danson. And, like reality shows and Italian cooking, the standard for Christmas is born from an American ideal. Think: Christmas tree with lights and the cookies for Santa and Charlie Brown. Somehow, Christmas has the United States to thank for what it has become today, and on a yearly basis Americans make Christmas bow down and cry ‘UNCLE.’ So, you can just imagine how odd it is for most people to discover that I don’t really want to celebrate Christmas… not in America… not in India… not in a box…not with a fox… not in a house… not with a mouse. You see where this is going?
I must be a Communist. I’m sure that’s what you’re all thinking. And so, because I think that that’s what everybody’s thinking, this year (like many years before it) I ended up saying ‘umhm’ while everybody else said ‘Amen’ during a Jesus filled grace. I wasn’t too good to eat the meat free items surrounding a roasted ham at the home of a very nice American family who took pity on my poor, lonely, unmarried soul. They were sweet and the company was nice, but I got to wondering why it is that everybody thinks that celebrating Christmas comes with your citizenship. I’m not so sure if its the commercialization or the accepted lying to kids, but somehow Christmas has become just as American as Thanksgiving. And the expectation for celebration is high.
Really, nobody makes the kinds of excuses to celebrate Hannukah that they do to ease their way into getting Christmas gifts. “It’s not for Christmas per se. It’s a holiday party.”
Word? So, when is the last time we had an office holiday party for Muharram? SIlencio.
Most Americans are culturally Christian (think cultural Jews vs. religious Jews), but I’d consider myself culturally Muslim. Religiously, I’m neither. So, when Christmas time rolls around I’m always discombobulated. If I’m home, then it’s supposed to be like Thanksgiving pt. 2, but in Jesus’ name for my grandma’s benefit. And if I’m abroad then it’s an excuse to get together and tout American traditions… you know, the Christian ones. And no matter how much I may be internally stricken, the pull of free food that I don’t have to prepare or clean up after always lulls me out of my bed — where a good cultural Muslim should be on both Christmas eve & day.
But, my one ‘dare to be true,’ non-Christmas celebrant action was anticipatory of next year. I told my housekeeper that next year her annual bonus would come on Diwali, instead of Christmas – since I don’t celebrate the latter. Didn’t I feel like an ass when she asked me if I wasn’t Christian. No, not if I was Christian. Literally, she asked if I wasn’t. Because (get this) she is! How I ended up with the one non-Hindu, Indian housekeeper in all of New Delhi, I’ll never know, but I felt just as crappy for assuming that Diwali was a ‘safe’ holiday as I’d previously felt for going along with Christmas rites for the sake of ease.
Not celebrating Christmas should make life simple. It is as safe as safe gets. No gifts to give or receive. No special meals to prepare. No expensive tree to buy, disassemble or throw away because it keeps shedding leaves and/or bugs. What else could you ask for? I’ve found, however, that this time of year is actually personally trying; dare I say, it is an opportunity to give in to or resist some complicated American social & cultural norms.
Perhaps there’s a multicultural hand book that I have yet to read about not being opportunistic about eating free food and giving in to celebrating the superficial meaning of a holiday to which I don’t subscribe. If it’s out there, please don’t wait until next Christmas to buy it for me. In the event that it doesn’t exist, perhaps I should think of Christmas as just the beginning of a whole slew of opportunistic holiday celebrations that I fully intend to superficially participate in. I already have plans to throw paint at my coworkers on Holi and to do whatever people do for Diwali. And, let’s face it, if I got a day off for some Jain hiero Astrian astrological holiday (and there was free food involved) I’d be up in there too.
Over the last two days, I’ve eaten more chocolate chip cookies than Santa. How self-respecting and self-righteous can I pretend to be in the face of fresh baked goods? After all, I am still an American. Expectations adjusted.
Celebrate the holiday, it’s okay.You wouldn’t feel shameful for throwing paint or shaking those little Indian mini-bells. Stop being anti-American and eat like an obese (yeah, that is a noun now). You are so different that conforming to American culture for a day doesn’t compromise your everyday uniqueness.
There are SO many Christian Indians in India (and in the US as well!). But the great thing about Indians in India, is that regardless of whether they are Hindu or Christian, tons of them participate in tree decorating, santa cap wearing and holiday cards. Just ask my family living in India!