Capture the essence of Christmas spirit

By Simran Devidasani

We pulled out the tree from the garage once again — even though this time I wouldn’t be here to decorate it. The familiar scent of rubber sparked faint memories of last year’s Christmas — our first real Christmas per say.

I moved from Bombay, India, to America at the age of five. Therefore, at that time, being new to the country, my parents were not completely Americanized.

To them, Christmas was where families exchanged gifts, ate a feast and put up and decorated a tree in their living room, which they found to be a strange concept. Since I practically grew up in this country, to me, Christmas was magical. 

I mean, who wouldn’t be star-struck by an overweight man with a white beard, red suit and deep laugh who snuck into your house at midnight and left you presents? 

In India, I’d only heard of such a concept from my Christian friends, but being five years old, I was skeptical. No one in my family talked about Christmas, because to us, our Indian holidays were the only ones that existed. Thus, coming to this country for the first time and experiencing my very first Christmas was surreal. Even my parents were a little taken aback by the beautiful lights, snow and family-oriented feel of this holiday, something I’m sure they did not expect. To my mother, Christmas sales became paradise.

To please me, my parents went along with the whole Santa Claus pretense during the following years and left me ample amounts of presents to open. But that was about as Christmas-y as they got within our family. 

One year I decided to take experiencing Christmas one step further. 

I hung up the few ornaments I had made in school on the corner lamp that we had in our house. This lamp was my Christmas tree. My parents chuckled at the sight of seeing 7-year-old Simran hanging lopsided ornaments onto a lamp, but they went along with it. That year, my mother even put out cookies and milk for Santa — a tradition I told her about. Even though my parents weren’t completely into the holiday yet, they were slowly starting to accept these small American traditions.

For people who did not grow up celebrating Christmas, it is easy to shut out this holiday. It’s gotten to the point where schools have had to change the title of our time off from “Christmas break” to “winter break.” I don’t necessarily go to church — but I’m not offended by a simple title that’s indicative of a Christian holiday.

When my sister was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., my family finally had a true “American,” someone born in this country. Ironically, we started to fully celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Besides buying presents, my parents bought decorations such as wreaths and food such as candy canes. As we slowly started to adjust to life in the U.S, we were adapting to the cultures and holidays. Christmas, essentially, was the hook with which we latched ourselves onto American tradition.

My parents who once said “Diwali was our real holiday,” told my sister and I to make Christmas art projects to put on our door or fridge. I always thought my parents were afraid to fully embrace Christmas because they were scared we would lose our Indian traditions and would start to value American holidays more. But their acceptance to small things such as candy canes and cookies made me understand that for them, this, too, was a transition. It was as simple as that.

Last year, for the first time ever, we even bought a tree. With that tree, we bought ornaments, colorful string and an angel to put at the top. After fulfilling the tradition of decorating the tree, we blasted Christmas carols and baked brownies.

Many of us culturally diverse students here have had different experiences adjusting to life in the U.S. 

Some of us immediately became accustomed to celebrating American holidays with every detail from the five-course meal to leaving cookies out for Santa. Others of us, slowly adjusted.

But the most important part is that we all accept and keep an open-mind about this country’s traditions. I encourage those international students and even students who don’t celebrate Christmas or any foreign holiday, to just try.

It may not be like your respective culture’s holiday, but it’s a time to come together and celebrate family, friends and love for one another. 

Simran is a freshman in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]