Monday, December 19, 2011

Twas The Week Before Christmas

And all through the house, not a creature was caring except for yours truly. There's a certain bittersweetness to this (it's a familiar taste, here) that makes me sad that there's no tree but happy there's none of that Charlie Brown sadness that sometimes just happens. I've been perpetually happy at this beautiful mix of emotions- basically because it means I can distract myself from what I'm missing.

That sounds pathetic. Let me rephrase: So the only time I miss home is when I'm bored and I have time to wallow in the passing thoughts like "Wow, I forgot how hard it was to wrap irregular objects, I did a lot more of that in the States" so those thoughts become "People here have no concept of the meaning of Christmas and giving them gifts isn't going to bring any Holiday Cheer to their lives". Again, pathetic sounding, but not incorrect. There is a split between the concept of Christmas as I know it and Christmas as (here I go generalizing it again) Malays know it. Since Islam is such a foundation of their culture and such a huge part of their lives, it makes sense to have all the holidays they celebrate be specific to their religion. Things like Hari Raya Haji wouldn't make sense should a Buddhist celebrate them, seeing as how it's a celebration of the Mecca-returning-season. There are a few national holidays that have nothing to do with any of the 3 races in particular, things like Merdeka day celebrate partiotism. There's no concept of a semi-religious holiday, something that everyone celebrates in their own way but is based on religion. Since many holidays in the States are roughly based on religion (think Saint Valentine's Day) but no longer contain obligatory church-visits, this concept occurs naturally to me.

Here, there is no separation of Church and State, also, but that's because Islamic Law mandates it be the Law of the Land. Go figure. Islamic law doesn't apply to non-Muslims, though (thankfully, I don't want anyone oppressed more than their religion dictates). What we've got here is this devoutness to religion, this encompassing hand of Islam that encourages further devotion to the ideas and practices of Muslim Life. There's a certain waivering from religion, but this is looked upon with such scorn that it is rare. This is in stark contrast to Western Countries, where the concepts of Spirituality and Religiousness are separate. We realize that non-religious people can be very spiritual (look at the Pagans!) and that non-spiritual people can be very religious (consider the people that attend services for the community, not the religion). We also have developed our culture to assimilate so many foreigners (in the United States) that many lines between culture and religion are blurred. Take for instance, Saint Patrick's Day. You've got the story of the boy who was kidnapped by pirates to return to Ireland to banish the Pagans, and you've got the family gatherings over lamb with mint sauce and other springtime feasts, and you've got the excuse to get really, really, drunk.

My point here is that the Western Idea of Christmas is so very different than the Eastern Idea of Christmas (As a Religious Holiday), and that is causing some miscommunication between East and West. Christmas might be the only time of year Christians attend church- there, I said it. These people who don't pray or worship or know much about their religion can be exceptionally spiritual, these folks can be just as if not more enlightened than those who get themselves up Sunday morning and shuffle through the line to get the wafer. Christmas and its ideas are so much larger than the event of religion, the concepts are woven throughout history, from the open-house-like sharing of bread with the poor to the cease-fires in World Wars I and II, to the cartoon Christmas specials attempting to capture the True Meaning of Christmas in a half-hour special. What we've got on our hands as westerners is an entire season dedicated to a quite possibly Pagan-originated festival. Historically, everyone and their cultural opposites has a Winter celebration- weather it be dedicated to the birth of a savior or the longest night before the world turns its face back to the sun or the gathering of those too cold to sleep in their own homes coming to a communal fire. This is another reason why there is no real concept of the true meaning of Christmas as I know it: It's just not cold enough.

This is meant physically and psychologically. Look at how happy everyone from Southern California is. It's because they get maybe 30 days of rain all year. Now, glance at the New Englander who's been pummelled by hurricanes and floods all of his life. It's suffering through bitter winters that causes communities to come together, it's everyone complaining about oil bills that makes all the adults in the room groan in one chorused voice. In older times, it must have been the people drawn to a large bonfire for warmth that sparked this flame of communal spirit. I think the sense of Community Appreciation and the Love for All Humans are the ideas that count as "What Christmas is Really About". And I come from arguably the most commercialized country on the planet, a place where that idea is often forgotten for the shiny new toys and the bustle or Wall Street or worry at just how you're going to cover those heating bills and rising food prices.

So, Peggy, I hear you say, what does that MEAN, like for ME? Or YOU over there in this Christmas-forsaken country? Well, it means that I can forget, something I do very well. The lack of the warm, happy feeling soiled by the cold metallic feeling is making me numb, the best feeling when you know you're precariously balanced on the edge of possible emotional breakdown. Why am I so dramatic about this? Because I know that if I take one little step towards the group of Americans this 25th I will cry and not stop. I've held this beautiful balance of missing home for so long and that got really close to falling apart when I went to the US Embassy Christmas Party. For You, this means that I need you to do me a few small favors-

1. Don't remind me of home in little ways. Tell me big things that are happening, not how you put up an extra candy cane for me on your tree. Tell me you're praying for me, don't tell me you worry for my safety.
2. Complain about your first-world problems. LOUDLY. Relish the feeling of dissapointment when your DVR recorded the newest season of Housewives of Orange County. Get absorbed in the breaking of the Cheese knife right before everyone is supposed to come over.
3. Have a Very Merry Christmas, everyone!

Okay, so let's get down to business (to defeat the huns). In the next few days I am preparing with Ibu for a party to wish the 6-monthers and the January-January kids bon voyage, packing for a trip to Perak then Penang, and waiting anxiously for my package to arrive. Anxiously is the key word, there, I've got some seriously awesome stuff waiting for me. Thank you, Grandma Kathy for the Lovely Box! Thank you Grandma Jean for the Beautiful Card!

One more thing- The Orientation. It was amazing. I was feeling down, I'll be honest. Then all you students took me in your collective arms and hugged all the hurt right out of me. I am now, again, a beautiful beloved person. I lied, there is another thing. The Embassy Christmas party that revived my respect for Humans and my disgust at Meatheads. There's a kid going to the states on the flip side of my program here and I answer every question with, "well. it's a really big country" and I think he appreciates it.

Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men,
Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Celebrated Kwanza, and Beautiful Solstice,
Peggy

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed your blog - an insightful write on cultural religious evolutions. Your thoughts about how weather & temperature and our European ancestral response to winter this time of year via Christmas are right on.

    This is evident this year with our record-breaking warm temps here in RI (generally stuck in the high 40s and mid-50s). This has made the Christmas-mind-set a little hard to get started. Especially for a procrastinator like me! Glad you are well and keeping busy!
    -Chuck

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