I actually wrote this ON Christmas, but then I got side-tracked and neglected to post it. It’s about Christmas, but hopefully you’ll forgive the delay…
It’s relatively early here, on Christmas morning. I had intended on sleeping in today, as it’s one of my 2 days off work, but apparently those 2 concepts (“sleeping in” and “Christmas”) do not mix well. Last night, I didn’t get to bed until close to 1am, and then by 6 my body thought I should be awake. Needless to say, it’ll be an early bedtime tonight!
Actually I thought this would be harder. For the first time in 27 years, I am not spending Christmas with my family. Because of my schedule and the cost of a flight home, I decided to ride it out in Calgary, make my own Christmas. And then as today approached and I saw my friends and colleagues slowly vanishing from the city, I wished I could go home, too. I kept thinking, up until late last night, about what I was missing: I haven’t seen my mom since she came here in November, I haven’t seen my dad since July, or my sister & niece since March, or my grandparents & aunt & uncle since last Christmas. And I’ve never even met my nephew.
About a week ago, I got a care package from my mom containing all the usual care package-type stuff like homemade cookies and banana bread and an extra warm sheet. Or is that just normal for my family? Inside the package was a wrapped shoe box with instructions not to open this until Christmas. So I let it sit under my tree until this morning, and then, with coffee in hand, I tore into that box. Stocking in a box, she called it, because that’s always been my favourite part of Christmas. Seeing what little things she managed to find. Always these were things I needed, like an extra toothbrush or gloves or lotion. And maybe that’s why I like the stocking so much, especially as I get older. Because these are things I need but won’t usually buy for myself. This year’s “stocking” was a bit different. It still had lotion and shaving cream like usual, but there was also alcohol. I knew it was in there – I could hear the liquid when I first shook the box, and of course my mom knows how much I love Bailey’s and how rarely (read: never) I buy it. But there was also rum, and a margarita in a bottle. Happy nights are sure to follow! And there were 2 movies on DVD, ones I haven’t yet seen (which will go nicely with that alcohol), a soup mug, a little book, and a few other things. And each time I unwrapped something, I could hear my mom’s voice in my head, explaining. This is how Christmas morning works in my house: I always got up before my sister, and opened my stocking at the kitchen table, just me and my mom. And with every item came a reason. “I know your skin gets really dry in Calgary, and this lotion has oatmeal. This one is small, so you can take it to work with you. Don’t drink all the alcohol at once – it’s just a treat! I saw this book of quotes and thought you’d like it; it’s all inspiration for new graduates.” Each little thing I unwrapped had a reason, and even though I wasn’t sitting at our kitchen table with my mom this morning, it felt like I was.
But let’s backtrack to Christmas Eve. Yesterday I wasn’t my usual happy self. It didn’t *feel* like Christmas, despite my little decorations or the snow on the ground, or the customers who came to me looking for book suggestions for people on their Christmas lists. Good things happened yesterday, but they weren’t necessarily Christmasy things. For instance, I caught my boss (or, one of my bosses, anyway) watching me suggest books for a customer’s well-read wife, and then later, watching me have a whole conversation with a girl who moved from Calgary to Toronto a few years ago. At first, having that pair of eyes on me made me uneasy, like maybe I was doing something wrong, and then as my boss was leaving, she told me how happy she was that I had started working at her store, how great I am with the customers (even the grouchy ones), and how obvious it is that I enjoy my work. That made me feel better, but I still wanted to go home!
After work, I trekked up to the North-West to attend a pot-luck Christmas Eve party one of my colleagues invited me to. I was nervous as I walked from the bus to the house, since the only person I would know at the party was my colleague, but the minute I walked in the door and was greeted with a hug from the hostess, I felt like I belonged. The party was full of international students who, like me, couldn’t get home for Christmas, and everyone was so welcoming and so friendly, how could I not have fun? I spent most of the night in a conversation with my colleague and a young man who had just come here from Egypt, both of them teaching me things about Middle Eastern culture that I would otherwise have never learned. There was SO much food, and even though I didn’t eat much, it was enough to just smell all the different food smells mingling on the table. In my family, Christmas dinner is the classic turkey/stuffing/mashed potatoes/green beans/coconut cream pie mix, and here I was presented with sauteed eggplant and mushrooms (which was so delicious, I wanted to inhale the entire plate), bits of pork on pieces of baguette, various kinds of salad, and desserts galore, among many other things. When I left, my colleague sent me home with the remains of her salad (so good I ate it on the bus coming home) and an entire bowl of her dessert – plain yogurt with chopped cucumber, a bit of garlic, salt, and mint. I’ve made this before, only without the salt (no wonder hers was better than mine), to put on salma (little pasta balls) and ground turkey, but I’d never eaten it alone before last night. It was possibly my favourite thing on that table. Definitely not my usual Christmas dinner, but just as good. And made better by sharing the meal with new friends.
Anyway. When I left the party, I still wasn’t feeling overly Christmasy. Had I left a few minutes earlier, I would have made it home in time to put the yogurt dish in my fridge and head out to midnight mass, like I do every year at home, but things didn’t work out that way this year. By the time I reached downtown, I knew I wouldn’t make it to mass – it was getting too late. That zapped whatever Christmas feeling I’d started to have, and I trudged over to the stop for my connecting bus home. And then something happened. As I was sitting on that second bus, waiting for it to leave, I started paying attention to the boy talking with the bus driver. He couldn’t have been more than 15, and even that’s a stretch. He was trying to explain he didn’t have enough bus fare, only a few cents in his pocket, and he just wanted to get home so he could wake up with his family on Christmas morning. And the driver said he should have thought of that before leaving home today, he should have planned to have bus fare to get back. She suggested he wait downtown, in the freezing cold, until this morning, when he wouldn’t need bus fare (transit is free here on Christmas day). I don’t know whether this boy was telling the truth, but I’d like to think he was. As he pleaded with the driver, I stopped thinking of all the things I didn’t have and the people I wouldn’t see this Christmas, and started thinking of what I do have: I have a warm apartment to come home to, a jacket and mittens to keep me warm in winter, a family who loves and supports me, friends I can share a meal or coffee with, a job I love. I scrounged around in my purse for my last two dollars, and as that boy turned and got off the bus, I called him back and gave him that little bit of money. No, it wasn’t much, and it wasn’t even enough to cover the full fare, but I was hoping the driver would forgive the difference once she saw that someone else was willing to help, and she did. It wasn’t my little act that suddenly made it feel like Christmas, it was the look on that boy’s face when he thanked me. That look was better than all the presents in the world.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from cold and snowy Calgary to wherever you are.