We flew on to Europe after that, and i spent the next few years living in Denmark, then Holland. Christmas there was more old-fashioned than in America. The stores were filled with wooden ornaments, intricate Nativity sets and gorgeous winter village collectibles. As per my mom's New Age beliefs we only had a table-top tree and a Nativity set in the house and we didn't exchange gifts, but the season provided some of my fondest teenage memories. Walking the cobbled streets downtown, snow flurries overhead, i enjoyed the smell of fresh stroopwafels, roasted chestnuts, gingerbread, coffee and cinnamon... Simple pleasures, a path back to the innocence i'd lost somewhere along the way. When we left Holland in 1997 i had no idea how many miserable Christmases i'd be signing myself up for over the next 12 years.
In Australia and New Zealand, Christmas falls in the middle of summer. People celebrate on the beach or at backyard BBQs. Not many people bother to decorate their houses because it doesn't get dark early enough for it to be worthwhile, and there's not much point in interior decorations either given how much time they spend outside. The stores still try to get buyers in the mood by spraying snow on the windows and doing winter displays, but it just comes across as a bad joke.
There was one island of true joy in those years. In 2001 i was in America for Christmas - for the whole holiday season, actually. The stores were crazy, it seemed the extravagance and decadence had leapt a generation ahead from just 8 years previous. It blew my mind how many tacky and wonderful little goodies were available, the sheer range of ornaments on offer for any theme, how far people took their celebrations. All the things i love about America come out over the holidays.
For years, for 7 fucking years after that i'd close my eyes and try to will myself back as i wasted my Australian Christmases getting fucked up on my own or doing whatever my friends wanted to do. I never got it back. I tried, i really did, by decorating my house, by buying imported cookies and cakes, by watching movies and holiday specials... Charlie Brown became a ritual for me. But the bottom line is it kind of kills the mood each time you have to take your Advent calendar out of the fridge in the morning and quickly put it back after opening the day's door so the chocolate won't melt.
This morning J brought our Advent calendars to bed before she left for work and we opened our first doors together. It's kind of cute doing Christmas with her because she's never done any of it before. She's only had a tree once (with her ex), and she's never dug through the dollar stores, gotten lost in the Wal-Mart seasonal section or even really enjoyed mall and department store displays. She was originally only doing all this stuff to make me happy, but now she's beginning to fall in love with it herself. It's like a window back to my wide-eyed wonder of 16 years ago. I only wish we had the money to really splurge on decorations - our neighbors on all sides have spectacular displays in their front yards. Shit, i can't even afford nice cards on this first year in ages that i really want to blitz everyone i know, share my elation at finally feeling festive again.
A lot of other feelings are coming back too, though, as i pass through each holiday that i did 8 years ago. I thought the 2002 holiday season was tough for me, but i had no idea. Because Australia is so wildly different when it comes to the holidays i was insulated somewhat from the grief, from that fierce sense of loss. Now all this shit that was so long ago is coming back and every little reminder breaks my heart anew, reminders that didn't exist in Australia. A lot of things have been that way since i got to Canada. I know it's still a different country, different coast, different culture, but just being closer... somehow it makes everything hurt all over again. There are ways... i hid my feelings in my environment. Being in Australia i could make things not real, make them disappear because it was another world. I can't do that any more.
Right now i'm going to get up and eat a bowl of festive Rice Krispies. I am an absolute sucker for holiday-themed foods, and at least they're something we can afford since we have to buy food anyway. Maybe there will be more good stuff available when i do groceries this afternoon. I desperately need to practice for my performance on Saturday, but my finger is refusing to heal beyond a certain point and playing with my left hand hurts like hell. Tonight i will go to the gym for another no-impact training session. It might be snowing when i come home, though they've been saying that for a few weeks now. We did get snowflakes in the air a couple weeks back, but nothing landed outside of my eyelashes. When i blinked i couldn't tell if it was tears or melting snow.