Last night Owl’s boyfriend, Peter, invited her to spend Christmas with his family.
Owl’s family doesn’t really do Christmas. Owl’s father is a Hindu who eats steak and her mother is a Buddhist who prays in Hindu temples. Excuse Owl the explanation. She’s giving it because mostly people dash up to her and go Merry Chr—er, Happy Holidays, er, what do you celebrate? And then, before she can reply, they say brightly, oh! You’re Indian!
Owl will explain she’s not Indian, she’s half Chinese and half Indian, and that’s the last chance she gets to speak. People will look at her blankly and ask her if she is planning a huge Bollywood wedding like the ones on TV. Then they will tell her all about the Asian Way, which involves being vegetarian and spiritual and having strict parents who make you do lots of maths. We get it, they tell her knowingly. We know all about you.
After such conversations Owl usually has to have a nice quiet lie-down.
Anyway. Owl was terribly excited about Christmas at Peter’s. As a child she would feel twinges of jealousy while other families celebrated Christmas. The twinkling trees in windows! The gingerbread scent in bakeries! Frank Sinatra singing (or well someone, Owl doesn’t know her singers so good) about holy nights and silent nights! Owl felt left out.
“Erm, what does Christmas at yours entail?” Owl asked Peter. The asking was mostly Owl being polite and culturally sensitive. Peter’s family came over to America on the Mayflower. Owl knows how their Christmas will go down. No questions needed.
While Owl hasn’t precisely Christmased, she considers herself something of an expert. Owl’s read an inordinate amount of Victorian’s children’s literature and watched movies. She can say with full confidence Christmas is about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, chasing someone around the couch while singing seductively about the cold, and eating pink hams.
In the same way of people who major in Asian Studies and can make grand sweeping statements about Asia after reading a few books and visiting once or twice, Owl feels totally equipped to comment on Christmas.
Peter went off on a long dreamy description of toddling downstairs in pajamas, opening stockings, putting on wool socks, brining turkey, (here Owl doubted the authenticity of Peter’s Christmas experience, brining turkey was not in any of her books, it was always ham) and…presents.
“Presents,” Owl echoed.
“Yeah, you should probably bring a present for everyone,” Peter said. “Don’t sweat it.”
“I will buy everyone chocolate,” Owl declared. Everyone loves chocolate. Christmas is about love. Therefore, QED, Christmas is about chocolate. The three wise men may have been handing over myrrh, but Owl knows that’s code for chocolate.
Peter explained chocolate were not quite the done thing. “You want to get something personal,” he said. “It’s about the thought.”
Owl was miffed. Chocolate is all about thought. Chocolate screams thought. Peter was just wrong.
“I’ll get fancy chocolate,” Owl said. “Chocolate wrapped up in golden bows.”
Peter informed Owl there would be no buying of chocolate, which Owl thought was silly. Clearly Peter needs to be better educated in the ways of Christmas. Then he added, “We also label our gifts with puns and compete to see who has the best.”
Nowhere in any of the Christmas books Owl read does it state that you have to come up with clever puns to impress your boyfriend’s family with your wit and linguistic cunning. Owl was outraged.
There was a long pause as Peter tried to figure out how to explain the difference between what is Christmas culture, what gets changed and adapted for family culture and the precise nuance of gift Owl would have to get to fit in. He ended up saying something like: Mwfrraglgeooole.
Owl is staring at the black abyss of Amazon. So far she’s looked at massage gift certificates, water coolers, inspirational jewelry, hand carved cedar boxes, and custom designed phone cases. She’s thinking about who everyone is in Peter’s family and how they think about the world.
It’s frighteningly strenuous. Having now experienced her first taste of Christmas (almost), Owl now understands why people get nutty during the holidays. Thinking about what people really want means being compassionate (blargh), open minded (ewww), and listening to other points of view (Jesus, really?).
However, Owl is fully confident she can do this. Having faced many stupid-assed cultural assumptions in her own life, she’s knows she would never make the same mistake. This confidence does not strike her as dangerous. She knows in her heart of hearts real Christmas is about ham and chocolate no matter what Peter says. Owl is a Christmas expert. She’s got this.