“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
(Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol)
Merry Christmas, everyone! 🙂
I could see her grimace in the mirror. For a second, her hands stopped moving, brush in mid-air above my head.
“No, not in the afternoon… I can fit her in, no later than 12.”
Yes, they were closed on the 25th, she mentioned just before that.
“On the 24th around 5 or 6 would be more acceptable… mom needs to finish all the preparations before getting her hair done. It’s the day before Christmas, after all.” Continue reading “December Madness”
Come December, I see her photo pop up on my phone and I know we’re going to have the same conversation over and over again. Sometimes I don’t even answer, because I’m already too irritable to put up with the depressing rant. I’d rather be the one calling her, when I know I can take it and perhaps even help.
The hypocrisy! Those two hate and trash each-other all the time, and today they were hugging in the middle of the town! They were talking about the holidays and inquiring about each other’s families. As though anybody believes that act!
They only give presents to receive more expensive ones. They’re not fooling anyone.
Please… they only decorate their homes to show off and make everybody else feel miserable. Like we don’t know… Continue reading “My Own, Personal Grinch”
I remember I wanted to crumple the piece of paper and throw it back into the hat. Instead I shoved it into my pocket and whispered something to the girl next to me. Her displeased face matched mine.
Anyone who’s done Secret Santa as a child knows how it can go from great to depressing in a second. Besides, we were too old for that, many of us protested. That might have been acceptable in middle school, but certainly not in high school…But there was no getting out of it, our form master decided it was a great activity that would bring us closer.
For me, all it represented was more salt on the wound, another reminder that my closest friends weren’t going to the same high school, another reminder that my current classmates were boring cowards, whereas my middle school ones were still mentioned in a whispered reverent tone. Thick as thieves we were, clever, with much above average results, and also unstoppable when it came to naughty, crazy pranks. The greatness we could have achieved, had we managed to stay together in high school… Continue reading “Cheeky Gift-Giving”
I happen to like December and all its seasonal frenzy – well, most of it, anyway… December is also the month I started this blog. Pure coincidence 🙂 . Four years ago, I was trying to self-publish Parallel Lives around Christmas time and in my mind, getting the blog set up for it was a must.
You know how it goes, the best-laid plans… Truth be told, Parallel Lives wasn’t exactly one of my better laid plans, it was something that took shape along the way, and I simply needed to go through with it. The book ended up being published a few weeks later, and my blog quickly veered off its promotional path, becoming a hodgepodge of moments, photos, thoughts and fiction. That’s just life, we write our story as we go, from one second to the next.
Meanwhile, my blog has developed a few traditions of its own. One of them is my December token of appreciation, and this year I’m starting earlier than usual. You can download Parallel Lives and Glass Slippers and Stilettos for free until December 25th. Feel free to share the links below with anybody you think might enjoy the books or offer them a copy as a gift. Enjoy!
Last but not least, thank you for bearing with me for yet another year and for sharing your stories and thoughts on your own blogs, allowing the reader to glance into your souls. Have a nice December, everyone!
and on iBooks, of course.
Young, beautiful and independent Amalia refuses to apply traditional concepts to any of her relationships with men; therefore commitment, marriage and couple routine are not part of her vision on life. Cynical and highly aware of the realities of an unromanticized modern world devoid of long lasting feelings, Amalia appears to only seek the promise of a few moments of fleeting happiness next to the men in her life. The opposite sex is often no more than a refuge from all mundane problems and deceptions, so the young woman stubbornly refuses to settle down with any of the men who try to win her affection – that would only mean the death of her soul, independence and character
Regina is the woman everybody loves to hate and hates to love. Behind the gorgeous, demurred façade lurk selfish ambition, ignorance and a desperate need to find her happily ever after. The search for a man to rescue her and make her dreams come true follows a sinuous, often obscure, but entertaining path. Regina may try to deny it, but she is no innocent princess, Prince Charming can be a beast in disguise and modern-day happy endings are nothing like their fairy tale version.
Part Three – My Own Christmas
I didn’t know it then, but that Christmas Eve would stay with me for as long as I would have memories to hold on to… not because it was fabulous, but because it was the first time I felt and understood what it was all about – what I needed it to be all about.
It was just the three of us listening to Christmas songs and staring at the flickering lights in the Christmas tree… my Christmas tree, as I felt the need to point out several times that year. We were 16 or 17 and it was the year that my grandmother had decreed that I was too old to have a tree. Well, if I was too old for a tree, then I was certainly old enough to do things however I saw fit when it came to Christmas in general. Faced with a minor family drama and a harsh blow to her perfectly loving grandmother image, she gave in and allowed the tree. That concession, however, would cost me all my Christmas gifts, I was warned. I didn’t mind, a few pairs of socks and another ugly scarf were definitely worth giving up.
It may not have been the most beautiful Christmas tree that I ever had growing up, but to this day it remains the one I treasured the most. We were all somewhat sad and ashamed sitting around that tree, my best friend, my boyfriend and I, that year… Yet we were also so very happy, so very content, finally so very peaceful. My best friend and I had gone shopping for the tree the day before and then he helped me get it home, spending hours and hours in the December cold and snow, trying to find the greatest one I could afford. That was as fun and pleasant as it should have been, the way both of us had forgotten it could be.
Once I finished decorating it, once my home was finally calm and quiet after my grandparents went to visit some of their acquaintances, the three of us had the unbelievable, unexpected chance to simply feel it was Christmas. Presents – small, thoughtful and amusing tokens of appreciation – discretely found their way under the tree, when the others weren’t looking. Between the carols, the smell of the tree and the Christmas wrapping paper torn open and spread all over the floor, we could laugh and be light-hearted, we could forget that uncomfortable sadness; we felt relieved, because somebody had thought of and cared about each and every one of us that year. We had each other, and that was all that mattered. We understood each other, we knew each other’s stories and we supported each other. It was as safe, calm and blissful a moment as any of us could have. We shared hopes and dreams; we shared painful stories of Christmases past and present and for once they didn’t hurt. We didn’t know it back then, but we were already forging our own traditions, we were deciding what we would never become, because our families had taught us what we hated most about human beings.
That’s how my grandmother found us, lying on the Persian rug near the tree, wrapping paper spread everywhere. Were we drunk, she wanted to know. No, we were not. Well, good, then it was time for us to clean up and go to wherever we were heading that evening, because she was expecting guests and we were in the way. But not before she opened her own Christmas present from me. I don’t remember what I got her that year, but after making a face and muttering a thankful ‘I suppose it’ll have to do’, the gift was deemed worthy to be seen by her friends. I adjusted my extremely short dress, I put on my extremely high heel boots and my nice coat and off we went, to wherever we were going to go. Apparently we were the cool kids, so we were going to attend a fun party and/or go dancing with our equally cool friends and acquaintances, whose parents weren’t particularly interested to know where and how their children spent Christmas, as long as they weren’t in the way.
We cannot chose the family we are born in, but we can chose the family we make for ourselves, the people who are closest to us, with whom we share the most intimate moments, memories and experiences. Yes, I believe that Christmas is a family holiday; but what I have learnt is that family is not always determined by DNA, not for all of us. My family are those very few people who have always accepted and appreciated me for who I am, those people who have always been there for me, offering their support in hard times and sharing my happiness in joyful ones, those people who have appreciated my doing the same for them. As it happens, none of them are related to me. And it’s all right.
Like I said, I make my own traditions. I choose when and how I decorate the Christmas tree. I choose to bake those delightfully delicious goodies every year – in spite of her countless flaws, my grandmother did manage to teach me some of her baking secrets. I choose to get nice, meaningful gifts for my dear ones, and sometimes I will buy them months before Christmas. I also choose not to judge or appreciate people and measure their affection only based on the presents they offer me. And for the past few years, I have also chosen to spend Christmas at home, nowhere near any relatives.
For years I have frantically chased all sorts of unattainable holiday goals, only to end up being disappointed, only to end up thinking of that bittersweet Christmas Eve, wishing for that sort of peace and acceptance. I decorate my home early in December and for years I’ve left this cosy place in order to try and gain acceptance and appreciation from people unable to accept or appreciate anybody. I refused to be alone on holidays, fearing I would be unhappy, only to learn the same lesson, time and time again – the worst kind of loneliness is the one you feel when you’re surrounded by people you don’t like. For years I left behind the people who cared about me so I could be with my… family. No more.
I have people who love me. In spite of my cynicism, I have reasons to be thankful and celebrate on Christmas, and I will do it my own way. I am not perfect and I have long ago given up trying to be, so I have accepted that there are people I will never be able to forgive, just as I will never be able to be nice and good to everybody. But once in a while I need to try to be especially nice to those I hold dear; I have to appreciate myself and the beautiful parts of my life. For me, Christmas is such a time… because I get lost in my own life and I need a reminder to stop and offer all these small pleasures to myself and those close to me. I will not apologize for who I am. I will not deny my own values, no matter what others may believe. And I will feel and celebrate Christmas the way I find it appropriate, allowing for bittersweet happiness and relinquishing all guilt and disapproval. You see, I no longer care about what the world or my family expect from me.
Have a nice December, everyone! Whether your celebrate Christmas or not, make sure it’s your own choice and not one forced on you by family or society.
Part Two – The Reality
The choir started singing all those beautiful carols we loved. That was the best part of it and I didn’t want her to miss any of it. I’d go get her, I told my grandmother. I was handed my coat and scarf and in a low voice I was warned there would be trouble if I caught a cold, thus ruining everybody’s holidays. I snuck out as discretely as possible, but disgruntled looks from some of the older ladies could not be avoided.
There she was, on the bench in front of the church, just where I expected to find her, smoking a cigarette. Her face was cold, sad and pale, and her fingers trembled slightly as they moved the cigarette back and forth. We could hear the choir from the bench outside the church and that’s where we stayed and listened to the carols that year. Pieces were falling into place – even if I was still very young, even if I couldn’t quite explain it, I was starting to understand why my mother didn’t want to be there in the first place and why my grandfather kept his distance, refusing to take part in that charade every Christmas.
I was the cute grandchild and my mother was the beautiful, independent, accomplished daughter. Our sole purpose on this world was to make my grandmother proud, I was starting to understand back then. What better time of year than Christmas for the entire community to envy her for her success as a mother and grandmother? What better time of year for the entire community to console her for the shame her ungrateful daughter put her through, refusing to get married? What better time of year to throw her to the gossip hungry wolves, thus punishing her for refusing to present her with a doctor or lawyer son-in-law she could brag about to all her friends?
We listened to the carols from outside, so the cold winter wind could protect us from the cold, vicious, judgemental ‘Christmas spirit’ inside the church. It had gotten particularly festive that year, when my grandmother brought the priest over, so he could better threaten my mother with eternal damnation for not being married… Words no man should ever address a woman, especially in the presence of her child, were uttered. Sharp, bitter, cynical, yet polite comebacks eventually left him speechless and with a proud demeanour my mother said goodbye, turned away and left, still holding my hand as I was struggling to keep up with her fast pace. She knew him as a child, I later found out; they used to play together and be friends; they were the same age, they were still so young, both of them under thirty, yet it all seemed so old and ugly…
Christmas is a time of giving, my grandmother taught me. Christmas is a time of giving, because that’s the only way to prove to those around that you have plenty to spare, maybe even more than them, therefore you are better. There was great bliss in discovering other ladies’ Christmas feast was by far not as rich or as well prepared as hers. It was her personal victory if another woman’s household wasn’t immaculate as hers; she really didn’t pay any attention to the fact that many of those women – her relatives included – also had fulltime jobs to worry about.
Christmas is also a time when you need to know how to receive, my grandmother taught me. It took a while for me to understand that from the many presents there were to be found under the tree on Christmas morning, none was actually from her. She was to receive presents from her family, not to offer them; and they had to be nice, expensive ones, the kind that would trigger her friends’ and acquaintances’ envy. ‘Why… you shouldn’t have…’ was the usual response… but god forbid you hadn’t done it. You were going to be in trouble for it until the following Christmas, when out of the goodness of her heart she would give you a chance to make amends for it. Proper etiquette had to be observed – no matter how nice the gift offered to her might have been, it would lose all its value had you offered something more valuable to someone else. Thus I learned about another Christmas essential – gratitude…
Christmas was about the tree as well – after all, it was the first relevant thing our guests would see, so it had to be nicer than the one any of them might have had at home. She would dramatically collapse on a chair next to it, sipping some wine from one of her crystal glasses, complaining about how exhausting it had all been for her. All the preparations were meant to make her family happy, but did she ever get anything in return? Did anybody ever show her any gratitude? Of course not… No matter who the listeners were, they were always quick to console the poor, unappreciated lady, and to praise her splendidly decorated home and her extremely delicious cooking.
From one Christmas to another, the mirage of that ideal family was more and more difficult to maintain. My mother started finding more and more reasons not to visit over the holidays. My grandfather finally retired. Times were changing rapidly and all of the sudden, she had to live with the idea that her social status would never be what it had been. There was no need to pretend to care about the less fortunate anymore. There was no need to have a wonderful Christmas tree, since there were no relevant guests to envy it anymore. There would still be baking for several days before Christmas, because much as she liked to pretend she was sacrificing herself for all of us, baking was something she actually enjoyed doing, just as she enjoyed the taste of those delicious treats.
Most of her Christmas traditions were still observed, especially when it came to giving and receiving gifts, but the situation became increasingly ridiculous as time went by. While somehow managing to maintain her aura of innocence and goodness to the outside world, the old lady was not able to forever frighten her own family into submission. One by one, most of us managed to break free and live our own lives…
I was presented with so many facets of Christmas over the years, both within and outside my family… so I could only do one thing, since I wasn’t going to deny the holiday and its positive symbolism: I had to make Christmas my own. I had to chisel my own traditions, if I was going to survive it; that’s what I learnt and struggled to accept early on.
Part One – The Illusion
The house was filled with that delicious smell of baked goodies. Vanilla and a variety of other aromas I was too young to know or recognize conspired with my grandmother in creating that warm, heavy, divine, mouth-watering smell that could mean only one thing: Christmas was only a few days away.
It was the final element in that trilogy of olfactory sensations that I have associated with the winter holidays from a very early age. The oranges were the first harbinger of the impending festivities and as I stood by the big fruit bowl, scratching at one of them with my little nails so I could carry its perfume with me, I knew there wasn’t long to go ‘till the much expected moment.
Then came the tree. My grandfather was never too involved in all the preparations, but getting the tree was always his job and I was his trusty sidekick. It was our little tradition: we would scour all the Christmas tree markets until we found the perfect one, I would choose it and he would carry it home. I don’t know about him, but that intoxicating fir tree smell would make me completely forget about the freezing cold wind, about the icy patches on which I really needed to watch my step and about the snow, which somehow managed to find its way into my boots each and every time. The serious, respectable, stern man became a child again, analysing fir trees, laughing more than I would see him laugh during the entire year and always indulging me, all the while knowing that the one I chose would inevitably be too tall. He’d be the one severely reprimanded as soon as we got home, but little did he care.
So when the baking also started, I knew it was time for my mother to arrive and for a long time that was what Christmas was all about for me. Once that finally happened, the two of us would decorate the tree and do the last of the Christmas shopping for that year. Among all those activities, she would work on answering all my questions about Santa and trying to convince me he was real. You see, that was a story I never fully believed, so each year she struggled to convince me, until her patience invariably reached its limits, resorting to the so very effective argument, “Because I said so.” As soon as that was taken care of, we could continue decorating while listening to carols. New decorations got lost among the older ones, my mother would share Christmas stories from her childhood and we would conspire on playing all sorts of silly little harmless tricks on my grandparents, the way she used to do back in those days she recollected.
Come Christmas morning, there were presents under the tree for everybody. At that time, I had no idea that not all families could enjoyed the same pleasures we did. I didn’t grow up to be a religious person, but in those days both my mother and I indulged my grandmother, dressed up as elegantly as we could and joined her to church. I was to be quiet and well-behaved, but most importantly I was to be thankful for everything my family was offering me.
Some of what we had, we were supposed to share with others on Christmas. We had relatives and close friends come by our place and we would return their visits. Everybody would wear nice, festive clothes, gifts would be exchanged and there was laughter to be heard around the tree. The good china, the fancy silverware and the expensive crystal would make an appearance, as we were going to always share a delicious home cooked meal with our guests. As the impeccable baker that she was, my grandmother always had little goody bags ready to be trotted out and handed out when our guests were finally heading home or for us to take to all the homes we were visiting from Christmas Eve until the New Year’s.
Our friends and neighbours behaved in a very similar fashion, from what I can remember. We often knocked at their doors, offering little packages of homemade goodness and in their turn, they would share some of their feast with us. My job was to help wrap up everything and small branches cut off our too large Christmas tree or bits of mistletoe were my special touch. Old clothes, washed and carefully packed, were being taken to some destination unknown to me, where others needed them; I wasn’t sure why or how, but I didn’t spend any time wondering about it during those early years.
Christmas was a time of magic, of dreams come true, of love and sharing, it was the time of year when I felt cared for and safe more than at any other given moment, it was when that which I desired the most became reality. For the innocent child I was, that trilogy of smells was the promise of bliss. That trilogy of smells still makes my heart beat faster… even now, so many years later… even now, when I know better…
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as Dickens said it so wisely… and I would eventually understand it clearly.
I have my little ritual every year after I decorate the Christmas tree. Once I tidy up and the empty boxes go back where they belong, I switch off all the lights in my home. Only the Christmas lights are on, the ones in the tree and those decorating the windows. I listen to sappy Christmas songs, just as I do while decorating. I just sit on the sofa, enjoying a well deserved glass of wine or perhaps a cup of hot coffee, whatever I feel like, and I think of past Decembers, good and bad alike. It’s just that calming tree and I, and even if I am practical these days and no longer get a real fir, it serves its purpose. Every year, it brings some joy and pleasure into my life, rewarding the child in me, awakening the child I once was. I… we… put such effort into setting the stage for Christmas, so we might as well relax for a moment and enjoy it, remembering how those lights seemed magical to the children we once were.
And sometimes my mind just wonders off and I can’t help thinking of warmer days… 🙂
Is famine about to strike? I don’t think so, I would’ve heard something about it on the news. Are shopping centres about to meet their demise? Allow me to have my doubts about that one too. Oh… wait… that’s it, this is the last weekend before Christmas. And I had to go to the mall, didn’t I? No, no, no last minute Christmas shopping, I know better than that. I just wanted my shampoo, a certain shampoo that I can find only in a certain shop. I’m not delusional, I expected it to be crowded, that’s why I started with the most remote part of the parking lot, the one where you always find a spot, no matter how busy it is or how close the holidays may be. Well… not today… Is it me or is it getting worse each year?
Half an hour later, I’m still spinning in circles, trying to avoid crazed shoppers and furious drivers. Just as I’m wondering how bad it would actually be for my hair to use dishwashing liquid instead of shampoo until after Christmas, there it is – the holy grail, also known as a parking space. Once inside, everything is fine. I don’t mind crowded places, as long as the parking issue is solved and I always find the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle rather invigorating. I also find it fascinating to observe how fast and abruptly we switch from generosity and enthusiasm to anger infused consumerism. Christmas spirit becomes seasonal anger, frustration, selfishness and hateful, vengeful greed in the blink of an eye. Or is that what Christmas spirit is supposed to be these days? Who knows anymore?…
I was going to take a small break from Christmas today, hence the photo; I wasn’t planning on mentioning any personal tradition for the holidays, I’ve already done that on several occasions this month. All I was going to say is that there are eleven more months in the year, so if we don’t get to spend any or enough time with those dear to us in December, we can certainly make up for it on other occasions. We need to keep that in mind, in spite of all the pressure we all have to bear when it comes to spending the holidays in a certain way. But, like I said, I had the ill-conceived idea of going to the mall today – and we all know how that can be. So I am only going to say this: perhaps we should also remember that we can buy, buy, buy everything in sight during those other eleven months of the year; that way, we might be able to spend less time in December hating everybody who’s managed to buy more and faster than we have and actually enjoy the holidays. And if we absolutely must behave like
animals uncivilized, uneducated creatures, we might want to remember that many of them (like the ones in the picture) are a lot more peaceful and mild-mannered than we can be around the holidays…
It was brought to my attention that two years have passed since I reluctantly started this blog. I didn’t expect to keep it for more than a few weeks, much less to actually enjoy it and have fun with it. So thank you all for making it such a pleasant, relaxing experience! Thank you for your encouraging and flattering words! Thank you for your support and understanding! Thank you for making me addicted to some of your blogs (yes, you know who you are)!
Like I said, I reluctantly started this blog, trying – and feeling inadequate for it – to introduce an ebook I had just self-published. It become something else in a very short period of time, a mixture of thoughts and photos, of fiction and reality. But I like it, so I will keep going 🙂 .
Since Christmas is near and since it all started with a book, here’s my small gift to everybody who enjoyed those sample fragments and didn’t get a chance to download it yet. You can get it for free until the end of the year using the following links:
(And of course, on it’s on iBooks as well.)
Whether you get it for yourselves or for somebody you think might like it, I hope you enjoy my small gift!
Happy reading and happy holidays!
We’ll have a nice dinner in a nice, romantic restaurant… and maybe drinks afterwards. Oh, right… you’re driving… well, then I’ll have a drink for you too. Desert? Sure, why not… I’m on vacation, after all. Right… you’re on a diet… coffee it is then, a nice espresso after dinner will be just what we need. We’ll stay out late, right? Tomorrow’s Saturday, we can sleep in late. But you had to go to work today… oh well, we’ll just go home when you feel tired. Anyway, none of that really matters as long as we go and see the lights. Of course after dinner… a pleasant walk in the cool night air, hand in hand, watching the lights in a town none of us knows very well. We’ll talk about Christmases past, present and future, I’ll stop to hug you once more, because I’m so happy to be here with you, then you’ll kiss me and tell me you love me. Did I mention we’ll walk hand in hand and marvel at the beautiful lights? It’ll be so romantic! Yes, they put up the Christmas lights and they’re supposed to be spectacular, some say the best in the country. Well, if the internet says so, then it must be true…
Easier said than done – clearly we weren’t the only ones with that sort of a plan in mind. The nicely lit up capital is swarming with traffic of all sorts, vehicles and pedestrians alike are determined to get somewhere, somehow on the early December Friday night. His job is to try and drive through the madness, keeping us – and those around us – alive. My job is to find our way and deal with the opinionated GPS lady, keep an eye on the map and another eye on the road and make sure we can figure out the correct turns in time. But GPS lady has had a bad day and her grumpiness and delayed reactions have gotten us lost several times, so it doesn’t come as a surprise when she does it again. Never mind, nothing that cannot be fixed… by driving the wrong way on a one way street. Now we know why nobody was heading this way. Wait, wait, wait, I actually know where we are – and it’s exactly where we want to be.
Ok… now we can relax a bit, we can drive around and look at the lights for a while, until we find some place we can park and then go for that walk we’ve been talking about. They’re nice, aren’t they? Not bad, but I’m sure there must be better to be seen, our expectations are quite high after what we had read about the festive display. Now for parking… While my eyes are desperately seeking an empty space or some sign directing us to nearby parking options, I can’t help feeling something has suddenly gone terribly wrong. It takes me a moment or two to assimilate the change – the boulevard in front of us has all of the sudden gone dark. No, not dark, just significantly less lively and colourfully lit up than it was just seconds ago. Where did all the Christmas lights go? Is it a power cut? But the street lights are still on. Strange… Never mind, look, there’s an underground parking over there, we can figure it out after that. But walking through throngs of people on averagely lit up streets doesn’t help us understand what went wrong and why all the Christmas lights went out exactly at midnight.
My plan had fallen apart quickly and pathetically, I concluded. And since I was quite fond of my plan, I felt a wave of rage taking over me. I wanted my romantic walk under the Christmas lights and I wanted it then and there. The control freak in me was just about to start stumping her feet and throw a tantrum the size of the so-called Christmas tree, that deplorable, pathetic metal shape standing in front of us, all dark and gloomy. He was holding my hand and by the look on his face, I knew he was on the verge of throwing a tantrum as well. Normally I am the one to calm him down, but not this time. I need to vent and yell out my frustration about traffic, parking, crowded places, bad organisation and a million other things. And that’s when I hear him burst into laughter… I forgot how you can rant… go on love, you’re brilliant! And he keeps laughing and laughing, point at which I cannot do anything else but laugh as well. The night is actually too beautiful to be angry and frustrated. So are the lights on that five star hotel on the other side of the street – their Christmas lights are on all night, they don’t turn into pumpkins at midnight. There’s the romance we plan and there’s the romance we stumble across when we least expect, in the most frustrating of situations…