Today's Christmas, and yet it feels like yet another day to me. It wasn't always like this. Those of us who still lived with Granny, days leading up to Christmas were always exciting for the grandchildren. Christmas Eve found my aunts and mom cooking, baking, and wrapping last-minute gifts.
There was the obligatory competition among the children on who received the best gifts as we tore the paper from an assortment of boxes and packages. No one wanted to receive useful gifts such as socks, underwear, or sweaters before we fell prey to labels and celebrity endorsements.
As time has passed, I identify less with what Christmas should be versus how I feel inside. Jewelry, cars, or Caribbean trips with on-again-off-again lovers mean nothing to me if there's no heart and soul at the center of the celebration.
I'm not speaking from a place of cynicism. I like giving and receiving gifts just like the next person, but when confronted with rude or unknowledgeable retail clerks, unrealistic or demanding gift requests, and a swarm of shoppers, I'd rather return to a place I visited years ago in Southern Spain.
I met a Spanish exchange student in the ELI (English Language Institute) back in college who years later invited me to visit her, "Come to see me when you're in Spain!" The turn of events that led me to Spain would make an interesting essay on race and prejudice in another post. For now, I'll concentrate on the time I rediscovered the meaning of Christmas on a rain-soaked Christmas Eve in Huelva.
I traveled by train from Madrid where I'd been staying in a private room in a three-star hotel, to spend time with Rosa and her family for about a week before traveling to Paris by bus.
The short of the long is that I was an odd celebrity of sorts as the only person of color in town. I think they'd seen Africans before, not sure, but I was a different complexion and build, so they didn't know what to make of me. Automatic cameras were at the ready with my face in the center of the frame. I was treated with an admixture of awe and respect, had a few glasses of homemade vino dulce, and was schooled on how to buy fine Spanish leather accessories.
I remember walking to the center of the town's church for midnight mass, folks arm in arm, singing yuletide songs in Spanish, under a sea of umbrellas protecting us from the steady rain. We arrived at church thoroughly soaked but in great spirits. I miss that sense of family and community rolled into one. After a day or two, my seeming differences had worn off or blended into the tapestry of this quaint town.
I miss the simplicity of waking up without expectations on Christmas morning as I did as a child, but I'm sure I can find my way back to that place in my heart if I block out the commercialization (bastardization) of an American Christmas that I was thousands of miles away from in Huelva.