Growing up in Beirut, Lebanon only children received gifts for Christmas. Being the oldest child, I stopped receiving gifts about the time my youngest brother became a toddler. I remember going to the store around Christmas to purchase Matchbox cars for my little brothers per my mother’s request when I was a child myself. I recall receiving a doll one year. Mom must have gotten it used, it was obvious it had seen better days. Mom said it came from the war. Since I was growing up in a war zone, I did not question further. I made the doll beautiful clothes out of scrap material so it would forget about its past circumstances. Christmas was a special time. We looked forward to midnight mass, visits with extended family during Christmas break, succulent Buche De Noel prepared by my mom and delectable food. We looked forward to the magic of the season, magic that had everything to do with the closeness of family and nothing to do with gifts. In November we started preparing by putting wheat and lentil grains over cotton on small plates and watering them. We would check on them daily and excitedly informed my mother when we noticed the first sprouts! As Christmas approached they would be 2-3 inches tall. They went under the tree, a symbol of new life and renewal. As the war progressed and our artificial tree became worn out, my brother picked up a dead tree. We covered the branches with aluminum foil and hung the ornaments. Remembering that tree now makes me cringe, but at the time we thought it was the prettiest tree in the world, we admired our handy work in awe until it was time to take it down.
I cannot remember when or why the excitement about Christmas waned. Was it adulthood? Was it immigrating away from extended family? All of the above?
Like many others, my own family’s home life was not perfect -as you might already know if you’ve read my book. I raised my sons as a single mom after a not so friendly divorce. However just as I tried to make my Christmas war doll forget its past circumstances, I tried to create joyful Christmas memories for my boys. As they grew up, I insisted on a private family Christmas. I prepare a scrumptious meal, I expect everyone to dress nice, attend church, talk, dance, sing, eat. 2020 did not allow us to attend church or see any of my brothers’ families due to Covid concerns but my children and my mom came over to the house. There were a few gifts but it was not about the gifts. As Daniel and Michael have children of their own, I hope they will be able to recreate for them the magic of Christmas. I hope they will visit each other and enjoy being together during this beautiful time of year and perhaps, they will smile as I do when they remember and recount their own Christmas memories.
May you experience the childhood magic of Christmas throughout 2021 and beyond. A safe and healthy new year to all.