Monday, December 18, 2006

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

I must make a confession: I hate the winter. I hate the cold, I hate the bareness of nature and I especially hate the snow. That’s why LA w/ its year-round 70-degree-weather is perfect for me. I spent three miserable cold years in Lansing, Michigan while attending law school and if I never see snow again, it would be too soon.

Despite my dislike for winter, Christmas time is one of favorite times of the year. No matter where I’ve lived and no matter what my life’s situation has been, I have always found Christmas to be magical and amazing.

I had my first Christmas tree was when I was in first grade in Iran. My half-brother, whom I didn’t even know about until then, had returned from Italy after many years and my dad wanted to make him feel welcome and bring us all together. I will never forget that tree. I even still remember all ornaments in detail. As a non-Christian living in a Moslem country, I had only seen Christmas trees in American movies and on TV. It was such an amazing adventure for me to go along for picking the tree, buying ornaments and decorating it with my new found brother. My dad told me stories of faraway lands and a sister I had never met. He, my half-brother and my half-sister had spent Christmases past in Rome and my dad was full of funny stories of those times. I was mesmerized by it all.

A few years later, when I was in fifth grade, my family and I found ourselves living a completely different life. Gone were the days of comfort and prosperity; gone were the glorious carefree days of the past; and gone were all our American and European friends and my “foreign” brother. We were abandoned by friends and family. It was just the three of us against a cold and harsh new world. Iran was now an “Islamic Republic”, whatever that meant. My father had lost his job and we were forced to move to a one-bedroom apartment in order to make ends meet. Times were grave and scary and virtually everything I knew life to be had been wiped off the face of the earth.

That winter, my father found me devastated and “homesick” for my old life. I wanted my Christmas tree. I wanted lights and ornaments, happy faces and parties. He knew that we could not have a Christmas tree and that having one might lead to big trouble for the entire family. Times were different now. We had religious zealots running the country and they would not take kindly to a “Moslem” girl decorating Christmas trees and singing Jingle Bells. But, I was only ten years old and could not comprehend how deeply the course of our lives had changed. I just knew that I wanted things to be the way they used to be.

So, my dad dug up a tiny old plastic tree we had and told me to string all my beads on a long strand. We decorated that sad tiny tree with my beads and ornaments he made out of cardboard and glue. Even in the depth of loss and despair, my dad made me feel happy and fortunate that year. I remember my parents warning me of the consequences of telling my classmates about my tree. They scared the hell out of me. I didn’t care. I felt like a super special secret princess with my very own secret magic Christmas tree. In a way, that little sad tree was and will always be the most beautiful tree to me.

Years later still, we finally settled and tried to grow roots in a brand new country and a brand new culture. After many years of harshness, uncertainty and instability we relocated to Texas and began to put our broken lives together again. We finally were able to celebrate Christmas again without fear, without being controlled and without being hesitant. As years went by, Christmas became bigger and brighter and happier in our home once more.

In the recent years, and for various reasons, that tradition has faded again. My family was plagued with illness and sadness and emptiness and Christmas got pushed back and ignored. I can’t even remember the last year I had a tree.

But, this year is different. This is the first Christmas since my dad died. After so many years of uncertainty, doubt, loss and unhappiness, this Christmas also marks my first one with my new husband. I face my future no longer alone and as I bid goodbye to my loving dad and all my fond memories of our Christmases past, I embrace my new family and look forward to Christmases with my own children. I can’t wait to string beads and make ornaments out of cardboard with them in honor of their Granddad.

So, for the rest of days of 2006, I am going to share pictures of past celebrations and Christmases. I wish I could show you my first Christmas tree or the one my dad and I made out of insignificant things, so you would know how fortunate I once was to be the daughter of such an amazing father. But, those images only exist in my mind and my heart along side the memories of my sweet and kind dad, whom I love and miss more than I can express.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2007 to everyone!

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