They were out on the streets last night, climbing up lampposts, uprooting trees, stringing banners from one side of the street to the other. The Christmas spirit, it would seem, has hit our small town too in the form of festive lights: shining stars; small fir trees with red bows and baubles; hanging lights across the street and, on some of the larger businesses, lit depictions of Santa Claus. That they waited until the end of November to begin stringing up all the lights, to begin the final season of the year, is something to be applauded. I had heard that in London one large and famous store began selling Christmas gifts back in August which, no matter how much you may want to be prepared, no matter how stressful the month of December may be, is a tad too early for my taste.
I haven’t really given Christmas much thought this year, much the same as I would have forgotten Thanksgiving – an unthinkable sin at home! – were it not for a few messages from various friends here and there. Such festivals, I must admit, are not my thing. I can see the point of them or, rather, I could see the point of them if they had retained their original meanings and by that I don’t just mean the meanings added by various religions over the years as they took over and adapted older traditional festivals. I could understand Christmas better were it truly to celebrate either the birth of Christ – whose birth date is unknown, when one accepts that he might really have lived and not just be a fictional work of others concocted several hundred years after his theoretical death – or the end of the year. Perhaps also better if the main figure connected to Christmas these days were not an advertising icon put out by Coca-Cola early last century and accepted since then as the personification of the Christmas spirit.
But I really wanted to avoid a rant about commercialism and the loss of tradition and concentrate on the lights, mainly because I am surprised at how discreet the whole thing seems to be here. Back home we have houses with so many lights across them you can probably see the results from space alongside the Great Wall of China. Christmas is still pretty much a family affair, as far as the towns and cities are concerned, and the celebrations should be carried out within their own four walls without the mass exhibitionism that we know. That said, there is one house in a small village near here which, as a matter of pride, has been decorated with thousands of lights, images, whatever. It attracts visitors from far and wide, is always featured in the local newspapers and now, a new idea as far as I can see, even has a small stand which sells hot food and drink for those who’ve travelled a long way to see the spectacle. I don’t want to know how much he spends on electric through the year, but I suspect about ninety percent of the bill comes from his lights in December.
Wandering around the area surrounding this town, up into the forest on the edge of our region, I am amazed at how beautiful everything is. The Fall months, with their wonderful colors – andÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â mean literally thousands of shades of green, gold, red and everything else you can imagine in-between – were breath-taking. But now, seeing the same areas caught in their first winter coats, sprayed – or so it would appear – with frost like a sprinkling of sparkling sugar on a beautiful cake, I am almost lost in wonderland. I don’t know why I’ve never noticed anything similar before, perhaps it comes from living in the city for so long, the artificial heat from thousands of cars destroying frost before it has a chance to decorate. I must try and get out when the light is right and capture a few images with my camera; I haven’t done a great deal with my camera in the last few weeks, perhaps because everything is gradually becoming a normal part of my everyday life, and need to wake myself up out of this strange comfortable feeling.
I am asked by many people when I intend coming back to the States, not in the way of a young child who asks, as soon as you arrive, when you’re going again and thinks nothing of the question, but more from those who feel that I am lost in dangerous territory as long as I stay here. Europe is, for many, the great unknown,Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â filled with strange people who cannot appreciate the advantages of being American, who cannot appreciate the high standard of living we Americans enjoy with all its advantages and perks. The answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know when I will come back to live in the States but, as far as I can see, it will be a few years before I even consider it.
The thing is, I’ve grown since I arrived here. I don’t mean just in a sexual sense – although that is certainly the case as anyone reading more of this Blog can appreciate – but also in a form of awakening sense. I’ve grown into an adult with a slightly wider sense of the world than most Americans, because I’ve seen something of the world – not a great deal, I must admit, but considerably more than ninety-nine percent of my fellow citizens – and because I’ve been open to its influences. Now, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way and I am certainly not being unpatriotic or anything of the sort, but America isn’t all its cracked up to be. I could probably go through a long list of things which are better here – and also many things which are better in the States which the Europeans don’t have, yet – but no one would read the list. Everyone I know back home switches off as soon as anyone, especially a foreigner, starts listing the ways in which other countries are better – I only need mention medical insurance and you’ll know what I mean. Added to which there are more than enough better qualified people who have written on the subject.
I’m not saying that I will never come back to the States, but only that it will be a while before I’m finished here and before I’m ready to make my way out of this wonderful experience and back to those things which were once absolutely normal for me.
In the meantime, while I prepare myself for the changes coming in the new year, I shall wander through this winter wonderland, admiring the lights, the frosted trees, breathing in the crisp unpolluted air and pretend that there is nothing worrying me in the whole world. And, in a way, I will be right. All is good with the world, here, at the moment.
Love & Kisses, Viki.