I hear most people I know talk about the coming Christmas days stocked with family dinners and discussions. In light of this year, I am surprised by how little their voices quaver. Ready to take a break from work and news, they seem more happy than not to be surrounded by relatives. It’s not actually family time they seek, but using this time to warm them from the cold outside.
The world feels bigger this time of year, starker and unusual, because somehow the world stops on December 25th. I walk from my apartment to downtown to watch how old buildings change at this time Below their dusty windows, I walk pass other roamers floating by and by. Their throats covered by scarves or downward heads makes it hard for me to find their eyes. I don’t feel the peace, I don’t feel the humanity yet.
I walk toward the renovated historic restaurant, and stand behind a woman shaped like a spinning top. I stand still when she begins to receive a car at the valet station; I figure if I don’t move, she won’t fall over. Behind me, a couple walks past me on either side, and come together again to hold hands. The valet woman smiles broadly at the driver so I continue knowing she’ll be alright. At the red light, families shove together as a giant gust of wind blows through the street. I remember three days I ago, sitting with my mother and brother and knowing we wouldn’t be together this Christmas. We too huddled in the middle of the room to talk about the rain.
For twenty-five years, I have spent Christmas with my family, mainly because we did not bother to find out what to do instead. There were no traditions, except one. Our laconic tendencies were no match for that strip of Hispanic heritage patched to our back, which we especially couldn’t turn away from at this time of year. My mother cooked tamales and we ate them. It was a very tiring and, according to my mother, pointless gesture. But I liked eating them. I still do. I like seeing my mother rested just as well.
So what happens after eating one or two hefty tamales? Nothing, except we clean up and wait for the 26th day, talking and laughing just like any other day. I found it hard to figure out what would be different about this day, besides any other day. Sure there were gifts, but gifts came and went on any other day too. The anticipation of a Christmas day built in me, like every year, and still the anti-climatic end came too suddenly. I spent the evening thinking how I would make myself feel more for next time.
Seeking refuge from the cold slaps this city only brings today, I stepped into a cafe. Looking down at my hot water, I pick up the people one by one. My nosy eyes bother me as they aimlessly shift up and down, and no one looks back. I am looking into a painting framed by my outsider eyes. Some stiffly move while others remain in their bodies. I get ready to leave, and a chill runs up my shin. Riffs of cold air shuffle across people, and we keep roaming.
I had certain expectations for this year, for this day; however, even my enthusiasm of preceding days are not enough to shape this day into something that will bring me happiness. The truth is I don’t understand what this day is supposed to be or represent. I am afraid all the holiday cheer and bonding gets build up by commercials, movies, books, and religion into something not all of us have or need.
On my way back home after eating a warm meal, I run into a friend who was also roaming through this day. She lives with her family so this day was just one of those days where she needs a breath of cold air. I look around and find that more people have come outside.
We walk a few blocks together, chatting ironically about the fun world we are witnessing. After all festivity, today of all days there are no lights, music, or colors present – no mad frenzy about what the world may turn into if we do not shop for those we care for or like. The city feels abandoned in a sense, but we, the onlookers, remain to offer comfort.
Though in recent days, I felt the world falling apart, I begin to see a semblance of hope. I leave my friend to continue walking beneath an open cloudy sky. With empty streets devoid of angry cars I can hear the hum of people clustered together inside their homes. Who’s to say they’re now filled with happiness, comfort, sanity, or disappointment? Are they like me? Someone who wants to familiarity, but prefers to move forward alone rather than holding on to a collective past.
I no longer hold on to traditions, and no longer sing in reverse. The time to be part of this world has arrived, though it took more than twenty years to realize it. What follows are strange things, that only I can see because I won’t expect them to come. I won’t be disappointed when the city feels empty and I am sitting inside it, waiting for the announced cheer to come. My family’s tradition has been cut short to make way for mine. I’ll take the opportunity and thirst to create things that will make me happy and alive.