Family is the Magic of the Holiday Season
Jwaye Nwel - Merry Christmas
Growing up in Haiti, my life was neither as predictable nor as peaceful as one would hope. My father's health was highly unstable for much of my childhood, and my brother died young. Through my youth in Haiti, there simply weren't many anchors I could lean on for emotional support. There was school, which I threw myself into with intense dedication; education gave me the chance to find magic within myself in a life that wasn't so magical. But there was another faithfully consistent point of light as a child growing up in Haiti: Christmas.
By this point in time, the vast majority of my life has been spent here in the States. As a result, I now find myself forging one identity out of two, as so many immigrants do (E pluribus unum, or so they say). And although I don't consider myself an immigrant anymore—I'm a Hatian-American U.S. citizen—the deepest roots of my cultural experiences, like memories of Christmas, still originated in Haiti.
I can recall to this day how incredible the holidays were during my childhood. The way Christmas was celebrated in my youth has had a big influence on how I've come to celebrate it as an adult with my own son, Andrick.
In Haiti, most of our Christmas celebrations took place over Christmas Eve, although we called it 'Réveillon de Noël' due to the French influence on language and culture there. We went to church on Christmas Eve, opened our gifts on Christmas Eve, and shared a festive meal with family. Today, my son and I celebrate in a similar way here in New York.
Christmas and the holidays are such a special time for people everywhere, and I think the reason is its beautiful abundance. Being gorged on the Thanksgiving feasts and Black Friday sales that punctuate November can feel gluttonous and inaccessible to many. And for many who work, it's a busy time of the year, adding an extra burden of stress to the gatherings.
But by contrast, everything seems to slow down near Christmas. Maybe it's the countless lights that give scenery a fairy-like quality, or the holiday decor of Santas, reindeer, and candy canes that plaster storefronts, or maybe it's heart-warming Christmas tunes that follow you everywhere you go. Maybe it's the traditions like decorating gingerbread houses, caroling, or a personal one, like eating pumpkin soup. Surely, these things contribute to the magical feeling of the holiday season.
But there's more to that magic than just the aesthetics and the traditions. What the incredible holiday feeling really comes from, I believe, is the excited looks on children's faces, rare visits from friends and family dotted across the country and the chance to reconnect, and the overall sense of being at peace and being at home.
However, Christmas overflows with emotion of all kinds, both the joyous delights printed on Christmas cards, and the sober reality that the world is indifferent to these joyous delights. This is the first year Andrick and I will be celebrating the holiday without his father, who passed unexpectedly earlier this year. Christmas doesn’t simply bring joy; being so close to the end of the year, it makes us highly reflective too. Not only that, but the abundance many of us experience during the holidays also has a way of highlighting the holes in our lives that can’t be filled with gifts or washed away with good cheer(s).
Christmas, if anything, is a scale or sorts, which lays our wants and needs before us and asks us to weigh our own priorities. It’s an easy decision, but we have to face whether we’ve made it each time we should. As someone who has recently experienced loss and grief, I can emphatically say the moments when "faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us, once more," are the most important moments in our lives, and the things we should be most invested in. And as the pandemic surges onward, I have to imagine we can all agree on that point.
Like the ornaments that adorn Christmas trees, life is beautiful, bright, and fragile. And we often forget to see these qualities until it's too late. The holidays provide a much-needed chance to reconnect with the people who make us us. That, more than the lights, the music, or the gifts, is what makes the holidays so special. At least, that's The Way I See It.