Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past and Three Kings

When I was celebrating Christmas in Madrid many years ago, a friend (Patricia) asked me why Americans got so depressed and weird about Christmas.  Now, while spending my first complete holiday season in the US after years abroad, I have the answer.  Expectation.  It's in the crazed shopping and the pressure of obligation to get everything right from gifts to treats.  I feel overwhelmed.  The encroaching darkness, the chill to the air and too much sugar, alcohol, and salt don't help.
     Nothing can ever live up to the idealized media image of a holiday celebration.  When I was a child, my sister and I (having learned this in school) waited up for a Santa Claus who never arrived.  My Latvian parents weren't up on that tradition.  Christmas meant a tree, midnight mass, and a big meal.  Gifts we received from relatives were things like fruitcakes that were never quite right.  Gifts were a regular part of my life, just not at Christmas so I was never deprived in that sense.  My father always returned from his visits to Buffalo with books, chocolates (he preferred Swiss) and paper dolls.  My uncles spoiled us with bags of candy. 
     I'm over the hump and starting to relax.  I look out at the neighbor's cloth snowman swinging like a dead body from the porch next to the illuminated reindeer and smile.  My class of adult refugees is practicing "Jingle Bells" for our party.  Shopping is done and I can stop running around.  And, on Saturday I escape to Berkeley where I get to spend the rest of the holidays with my Jewish friends.

Here's a poem about King's Day- a fun holiday in Spain.  I am missing my past visits, the great friends and glorious meals.


The Three Kings are lost
in whirling snows.
Camels sink unsure
in lands
past sands and tropics.
My door has no shoes
Waiting for favors or coal.
My favourite, Balthazar,
for the name
and stately beard
shakes his head no.
Here in white
crusted snow,
ice fills each empty step.

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