I spent my first Christmas away from home alone. I was house-sitting for a friend, well technically it was a trailer in Hermosa without heat in the middle of one of the worst winters of Colorado. Since I was in the middle of nowhere and not much for TV, I decided to throw myself into working on my Shakespeare paper. I had aptly chosen The Winter’s Tale.
It was so cold that I gave up changing clothes and the thought of showering for really no reason whatsoever made my fingernails dig into the palms. So I gave up getting out of my flannel pajamas and layers of blankets. All I needed was a mewing cat sitting on the bed and pink rollers in my hair and the look would have been complete.
And it’s looking like this year I’ll be doing it again – spending the holidays alone. Or kohn diao as the Thais would say it.
The holidays are a queer time of year. I like watching how Hollywood portrays Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even the films that showcase dysfunctional families never seem to capture the blissful awkwardness and contrived good-will towards others that I seem to experience. That “hey guys shouldn’t we be feeling something profound right about now” moment?
When I was with my family I was wishing I wasn’t. You see my mom doesn’t give two baht about Christmas. It was just the American holiday that she inherited when she married my dad. And without a strong foundation of the English language I can imagine it’s like what I experience when I’m watching/participating in Thai holidays: what does all this really mean???
Please don’t get me wrong, I love my family. But growing up I wanted the Normal Rockwell Christmas. Very badly. I cherish my time with them but I have had a lot of holidays without them too. I’ve spent five solid years away from Hawaii simply because I couldn’t afford to head home, home which happens to be a popular tourist destination. I don’t have these sacred family traditions and coming from a small family it doesn’t feel very Christmassy anyway. On Thanksgiving we sometimes ate at the Officer’s Club and while it didn’t feel authentic or traditional, it was practical.
It’s just this time of year has no meaning for me. I wish I could get that holiday rise. But I give thanks everyday and Christmas isn’t simple, which is the way I envisioned it to be; in fact, is kind of annoying. I hate trying to figure out what to get people. I’m never right and they are never right with me either. The best gift I ever received was a large black river rock that my friend Tiger gave to me for my birthday. She had placed it by the fireplace so that by the time she came to school and placed the rock in my hands it was warm, and I was thrilled that someone intuitively got me.
But don’t cry for me Thailand, spending time with my favorite person is not some sort of curse or prison sentence. In fact, when I was in high school my punishment was not to go to my room but it was to be outside my room. I remember sitting on the living room couch seething with rage.
Besides sometimes spending the holidays with friends or strangers is just as awkward and bizarre. I used to feel bad for the guys I’d see staring at the freezer section of the grocery store grabbing a Swanson’s frozen turkey dinner and spending the day watching reruns of the Star Wars trilogy on TV. But now I get it. I get it.
There’s no Thanksgiving dinner to throw up because your sweet friend invited you over to her home and lovingly served Tofurkey. There’s no watching your boyfriend smoke a joint on Christmas Day or a friend of a friend cook cocaine on New Year’s Eve on her bed. I left the room after she had injected herself and wondered how I managed to find myself here just before her children came home.
Although I do have a holiday moment that I enjoy; it was the time I was invited over to my teacher’s house. She was divorced and her children were all grown up but every year she opened her house to friends, colleagues and students who were away from their homes. She hosted a big potluck and lived on a lovely farm. I thought it was a great idea and I hope to do the same one day.
As soon as I arrived I brought my aluminum covered casserole dish into the kitchen. I stood there listening to a woman, who shall remain nameless, talk to our hostess.
“Oh look at all this wonderful food. What’s this? Oh! And what’s this? Wonderful. I hope no one brings a green bean casserole though. It’s so white trash. Oh, hi Lani! Good to see you. What did you bring?”
“My favorite Thanksgiving dish,” I smiled, “green bean casserole.”