Submitted Date 12/02/2018

Christmas usually comes with risks, at least for me.

One Christmas, I bought a tall green plant in lieu of a Christmas tree because I was too scared to buy a real Christmas tree from the back of a plant shop in Saudi Arabia. I had no idea how I would get a Christmas tree home even if I did buy one. Would the religious police notice a tree on the top of a taxi? I was too scared to take the risk.

A plant was the best option. When I got home, I decorated it with key chains I collected from different countries. This was an idea I got from another teacher, who collected key chains on her travels to use as Christmas ornaments that customs would not confiscate when she returned to Saudi Arabia.

For the years I lived in Saudi Arabia, I did the best I could to celebrate Christmas with the little I had. No tinsel. No lights. No ornaments. No wrapping paper.  

Even though I stopped focusing on the outward manifestations of my Christmas spirit, there were times I was able to indulge in decorating. You could say I learned to be creative about decorating for Christmas and learned to appreciate how having just one thing can make it feel like Christmas.

Regardless of who I spent Christmas with overseas, I was always surrounded by others including my ex-husband who were grateful to simply be together. There was neither tension or awkward moments. There was just happiness. There was no silence filled with anger. There was just what I could only describe as the spirit of Christmas.

As time went on, I felt like I looked less and less forward to Christmas as it became just another day that I had to go to work in Saudi Arabia. Since celebrating Christmas is technically illegal in Saudi Arabia, I could not even request the day off from an employer for religious observation. Christmas, unless it fell on the weekend, became just another day.

Christmas went from a season to just one meal.

Last year was so different for me. I spent Christmas morning at the beach in Delray, which is something I had never done on Christmas day. It felt nice to go swimming, but I wish I did not feel so alone as I sat there amongst families sitting together and actually talking. Later that day, I celebrated Christmas with a meal at an expensive restaurant, something I did in Saudi Arabia as well. The only thing different last year was the people. I was sitting at a table with people I loved, but I felt more alone than the years I spent Christmas overseas, in Saudi Arabia, away from family and friends. I never would have thought I would have felt more of the Christmas spirit in Saudi Arabia than in the United States.

The truth is Christmas is what you make of it. It does not matter how fancy a meal you have or the amount of tinsel you throw around. Christmas is about the spirit within each of us and the energy we give off.

This was not exactly something I learned easily. In my twenties, I learned to survive Christmas as friends posted boastful status updates on Facebook reminding me of my own distant holiday memories before divorces, infidelities, and other things (you get the picture) that tore my family apart. The memories played again and again in my head, reminding me what I no longer had.

Being stuck in my past and that of my family’s prevented me from enjoying the holiday in the present. Instead, I always felt like Christmas became a burden in my house, where I was expected to show up and be content with being ignored. I survived it, faking my way through it even though inside I wanted to feel part of a family that enjoyed the holidays and spending time together. Christmas became a season of being reminded of what I once had and what I lost.

I realize living in Saudi Arabia made it easier for me to get through the holidays, since I put distance between myself and those triggers to my memories.  

This year, I have found myself thinking about never being able to celebrate Christmas with three of the most important women in my life (my mother, my grandmother, and my great-aunt) since they are now gone.

While past pains will always be part of me, their memories fade as does the sting.

This year, I am not alone, and it is positively overwhelming. I have cried several times in the past week, sometimes secretly and other times out in the open. From feeling joyful to realizing my vulnerability, I can no longer keep my tears captive.

This Christmas, I am getting a tree. I already got some ornaments, that I can pass down one day. My boyfriend got me a purple stocking. I cannot remember the last time I had a stocking. My stocking now hangs next to his and his two children’s. It has been a while since I had a place to put my stocking. There is meaning in everything, at least for me.

I am happy to be in love with a man who has given me back Christmas, a place to put my stocking, and a place to call home.


Photo by Roberto Nickson (@g) on Unsplash


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