Advent: Windows of Memory, December 5

Advent: Windows of Memory, December 5 December 6, 2012

The Fourth Window:  Scottsdale, Arizona Christmas 1972

Christmas 1972 is the lost Christmas.  As hard as I try, I can’t remember anything about the holidays that particular year.

In November, my family moved from Maryland to Arizona.  The highway voyage across the United States in the yellow Ford station wagon, dad and mom, the three of us children, and Old English sheepdog in tow endures in my memory—all the hotels, the changing landscape from east to west, the rest stops and restaurants, and music on the radio.  Those early weeks in Arizona are equally crystalline, everything from the seeing the new house, unpacking boxes, the uneasy days of being at a new school, and the first time I tasted a taco (which I didn’t know how to eat).  All experiences still clear in mind’s eye.

With so many exciting and exotic things, perhaps the familiarity of Christmas has caused it to drift to the edges of memory.  After all, there was a tree and gifts and carols around the piano and church.  Nothing surprising there.  Maybe Christmas served to ground our family in tradition, connecting us with something thing we knew in a place so alien.  As I rake through my mind for anything that stands out, nothing does.  We must have celebrated Christmas in much the same ways we always had.  Only our surroundings changed.  Christmas was Christmas after all, even through there were cacti in the front yard instead of snow-covered azalea bushes.

I have come to call it the immigrant Christmas.  And I wonder if other immigrants experience holidays in the same way.  In a strange new world, a familiar celebration is a way connecting with the old one—Christmas provides the opportunity to recreate a heritage, enacting customs from places we (or our ancestors) once inhabited.

There is a funny thing, though, about immigrant holidays.  Eventually the “surroundings” reshape the celebration.  Through the years in Arizona, my family adopted new customs, each holiday becoming less like Maryland and more western in flavor—everything from candle-lit luminaries to walking to church for midnight service to tamales at Christmas.  We learned about Las Posadas and listened to Navajo carols.  At first, Christmas was a refuge of the old world; but as years passed, Christmas became a mixture of where we had been and where we had arrived.  The immigrants settle in and the new world becomes home.

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