Sunday, December 19, 2010

Santa Claus is Coming?

It's interesting how we measure the year in seasons, marking the time with the changes in weather, the changes in wardrobe, and the changes in the world around us. This time of year usually has quite a marked and distinguished difference from every other season; it stands out from the rest of the year like gangbusters. The scent of pine greenery and flicker of lights everywhere you go, the catchy seasonal tunes that never seem to leave your head, the smell of pumpkin and allspice baking in the oven--I never realized before how all-encompassing it really is. That is, I never realized it until all of that became absent.

Sure, Koreans celebrate Christmas, but not nearly to the degree that Americans do. In some ways, it's a little bit refreshing that the weekend after Halloween doesn't cue all of the retail world to pitch into holiday-themed ad campaigns. In a way, it's a little bit nice that everyone isn't scurrying around like mad to accomplish all their holiday shopping. But, I must admit, my American-ness runs deep, and I kinda miss it, even some of the madness.

When you think about it, it's sort of amazing how an entire country as large as the United States embraces a little bit of magic all at once. Call it a consumer-driven holiday if you like, but I think that even if you're not religious, it's something much more than that. I think it's the something more that's what sustains it. I always feel such warmth and hope, renewed with each lit up tree I see, each plate of cookies I bake, and each carol I hear on the radio. It's a time when I feel constantly reminded of the beauty life can bring, and the love that is present in each breath, each blade of grass, and each raindrop (or snowflake).

Maybe it was my charmed childhood, in which my parents really made Christmas a time of magic, wonder, and love for all of us. I couldn't wait to bake pie with my mom and my sister, to wrap presents in secret from dad to mom and from mom to dad, to sing carols with the church choir and to smell the breakfast casserole baking in the oven on Christmas morning. As our little family grew up, I clung tightly to our family traditions. I helped dad put up the outdoor lights every year, making him promise to wait for my holiday break from college so that we could do it together. I demanded that everyone help decorate the tree on Christmas Eve, just as we had when we were kids. Everyone heaved deep sighs and asked "do we have to?"--it's a lot of work when you have an ornament from every year of your life, and then some! I even continued to write my Christmas Eve note to Santa Claus, leaving cookies and milk as well as a carrot for Rudolf, well into my college years. It's a little silly, I know, but I always loved seeing what "Santa" wrote in reply in the morning. Behind every one of these traditions was a little excitement for the joy that life can bring, and a lot of thanksgiving for that gift.

This holiday season, I am feeling grateful, indeed. Things are different here, to be sure, but I'm trying to find my own small glimpses of Christmas spirit where I can. Yesterday I went to Starbucks, (I know! In Korea!) which seems sort of ridiculous, but I knew they would be all decked out in holiday cheer. I ordered a peppermint Mocha with whipped cream and sat by the window, alone. I looked out to the busy street and listened to the Christmas music and just got quiet. I thought about the miles between me and my family this Christmas and felt truly grateful to have so much support and love across all those miles. It's not just the care packages of late, containing ingredients for holiday treats, a cookie press and all the recipes I have been missing. It's knowing that I can go wherever I will with my traveler's heart, I can do whatever I will with my scattered ambitions, and I will always have a family back home, missing me, but hoping that I'm having the time of my life. They will always encourage me to follow my crazy dreams. Reflecting on a gift like that, I feel all the warmth of the season right here with me, no matter the distance.

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