Apparently, Christmastime is here. As I'm sure you can guess, this season has looked and felt much different for me this year. As with anything and everything, while this time has sometimes been difficult and sad, I continue to learn a lot--mostly about myself and what is important to me.
The obvious remark I will make, and that I'm sure you're expecting, is that being stripped of many of my favorite parts of Christmas has given me time to reflect on what Christmas is really about. This is in line with my frustrations before coming to Viet Nam about how often the true meaning of Christmas often gets lost in the consumerism and busyness of the season.
Yet, to be entirely honest, any extra thinking about the true meaning of Christmas has been forced. Most of the time I just forget that it's even Christmastime. So, this has brought me, yet again, to another realization about my ideals.
While I still think that America's version of Christmas has gone off the consumerist deep-end, I have come to a greater appreciation of all the little--and yes, often "meaningless" at the most basic level--traditions that make Christmas what we know it to be. Just as we celebrate birthdays in order to make our loved ones realize how special they are--as well as to selfishly indulge our love of cake and ice cream (or mostly just the ice cream)--it is right for us to celebrate Jesus' birth, even if some of our methods are a bit selfish. The important thing is that the traditions and celebrations do indeed serve to remind us of what his birth means.
And sure, we always say that, but is that really what our celebrations remind us of? Well, the things I miss about Christmas are not so much the things--or if they are, I think what I really miss is what the things represent to me: People. Family. Friends. Community. Knowing that I am loved.
I think I thought it was wrong to miss these things...but really, there can't be anything better to miss, can there? For wasn't Jesus' birth (as a necessary step towards his death) really the ultimate sign that we are loved--by none other than our creator? And shouldn't our right response to that love be to extend it to others? And isn't the way Jesus taught us to remember him the act of gathering together to eat?
Thus, my biggest reminders of Christmas in the past few weeks have not been the plethora of tacky decorations on the shop windows. Rather, they have been some times of gathering--whether expressly for the purpose of celebrating Christmas or not--together
with the people I have grown to love here in Ha Noi.
The engagement party I wrote about in my previous post actually made me think of Christmas, because it was a big family gathering. And everyone clearly enjoyed being together so much--aren't most events like that really just an excuse to be together?
The other night I had a great meal with my host family. Nothing special, but it was one of the times when I felt a bit less invisible sitting at the table.
Sunday, we had a Christmas potluck after church. It was fabulous, really. Chocolate cheesecake. Need I say more?
And last Wednesday we had a Christmas party at small group, which included a "White Elephant" gift exchange. If you're wondering if I have changed completely during my time thus far in Ha Noi, note the expression of glee that a box of chocolate still brings to my face, and wonder no longer...
However, much as I love these guys ^, I still miss all of you.
Which brings me to the thing that is making Christmas feel most like Christmas...
MY PARENTS, quite possibly the best Christmas present ever, flying toward me even as I write this!
Can you really blame me for struggling to focus on editing the bio of a dead Vietnamese author?