“How did you get through the holidays here, because I’m having a really hard time?” my little sister asked me.
She had just moved to Hawaii and couldn’t wrap her brain around the fact that she had to spend Thanksgiving in 80 degree weather under palm trees, far from family, with no turkey dinner. (I know, get over it, right? You’re in Hawaii!).
And that’s exactly what I told her.
“You get over it. Eventually, you realize that the price a nomad pays is no more holidays. At least, not as you knew them.”
Often it’s because of work; sometimes it’s simply because your traditional, British roast dinner doesn’t exist in Mexico/Hawaii/Vietnam/India.
But I knew the feeling. I’d been there so many times. My first Christmas away from home was in Hawaii. We had fish and poi for dinner. Poi is disgusting. And there is no holiday spirit to be found in fish in 80 degree weather. Inside of me, that innocent Christmas fairy withered and died.
Since that first Christmas in Hawaii, I’ve spent dozens of Christmases, Thanksgivings, and birthdays alone, working, far from family, and sometimes without even a friend to celebrate with. Two Christmases ago I didn’t even have enough pesos for a string of lights, much less a tree, presents, and roast dinner. And then I got dengue. Last Christmas, our VW bug broke down on the side of the highway, and Noel had to sleep in it, while I hitched a ride home alone.
So yeah…you just get over it.
And then, throughout the year, there comes a day or two that is absolutely stellar. And you say to yourself, “Happy Birthday!” or “Merry Christmas!! This is the best Christmas ever!!!”.
Tricks of the trade, I tell you.
But it’s not as harsh as it sounds – there’s more to it than that. There are ways to spark that Holiday Warm and Fuzzy.
One year I had a single string of lights and some green yarn. I hung the lights and scotch-taped the yarn to the wall in the shape of a Christmas tree, then decorated it with my earrings. And then I worked a double. In Hawaii, I wrapped a string of lights around 3 table-top Thai chili and lime trees.
A little creativity goes a long way.
Every year I make a point to watch my favorite holiday movie, A Child’s Christmas in Wales. It embodies everything I hold dear about the holidays: British roasts, Welsh grandfathers, Christmas crackers, mince pies and caroling. For those 54 minutes at least, I have my Christmas.
And then finally, one year after so many holidays away, you go home, full of enthusiasm and reminiscence, ready to have an amazing holiday with your family once again. Said holiday comes and goes, and you realize: it will never be what it once was.
But reproducing the romance of our childhood is not the point of Christmas.
So what is the point? It’s not a question we really consider often. Unless we’re Christian and we’re told what the point is. I think the better question is What do you want the point of Christmas to be?
Holidays are living, evolving celebrations of our lives.
Why force them to be dead reenactments of the past?
It’s your life. Make it what you want.
Last year our Christmas tree was a massive piece of driftwood found on the beach. This year I decided I wanted to use a quiote – the stalk that grows out of an agave plant when it’s ready to flower. It’s free, it’s fitting to the Baja climate, and it’s appropriate, since we make our living selling mezcal. Trouble is, there aren’t so many agaves in this part of Mexico.
I scanned the sides of the highway as we drove to and from Cabo; I wandered the desert hills near my house. I found nothing. I began to think I’d have to relent and buy a tree from the supermarket. Then I took the dogs on a hike up the mountain that loomed over the ocean. A hawk circled my head as I listened to a recording of Dzogchen teachings. Up and up we went, to where the hawk awaited us near the peak. And there they were: half a dozen agaves, and two with quiotes that had already flowered and died, ready for harvesting.
I thanked the hawk and the agaves, hitched the 10-foot long pole on my shoulder (they’re quite light when dead and dry), and ran all the way down the mountain to beat the onsetting darkness. As I ran, the sky over the ocean flushed brilliant shades of pink and deep rose. The sea itself breathed in purple. My town – my little pueblito, Todos Santos – twinkled below in the valley of palms. Gratitude and joy surged through my limbs, my core.
I felt I could fly down that mountain.
There won’t be much for presents this year. No parents, no Welsh grandfathers, no little children or stockings bulging with chocolate oranges or Christmas crackers. And while I’m still holding out hope for a roast dinner, I feel I’ve already had my Christmas. Soaring down that mountain under a glowing sky, the gift of the sacred agave on my shoulder, and my family – my new family: Noel and my two goofy dogs – safe at home.
What is my meaning of Christmas? Nothing more than adding a touch of magic to the life I already have and love.