The skies are blue and clear, the land flows with flowering trees, kids on bikes, swimming pools and all that does not evoke Christmas. But Christmas came to India anyway, just as it swept over much of the world and we greatly enjoyed our first holiday season in our new home.
The past few weeks of Advent saw moderate preparation in our household. We received our sea freight a mere 12 days before, so much of the time has been engulfed in unpacking and finding appropriate homes for all the odds and ends of life. It was a time of rediscovery and our place was the fun house for the nine kids on our street.
When we weren't out building graham cracker gingerbread houses at the local American greasy spoon, Sparky's, baking cookies, creating bead and paper snowflakes, bowling, or continuing with Hindi and tennis, we were at home with our worldly possessions. Only one item seems to have not made the trip at all, a costly and useful item as well: our toolbox. Thankfully there are no sentimental attachments to tools so they will be replaced in time, but it does make simple home repairs or even craft projects more difficult in the meantime. Rebecca asked to have the training wheels taken off her new bike, but we no longer own a wrench. I'd like to put up some nails in the limited available woodwork, but that's unpleasant without a hammer.
Small inconveniences, to be sure. We're happy, we're healthy and we hope that this magical season sees the same with everyone we know and love.
We attended 9:30 p.m. Mass at the Basilica. The service was a mixed bag, from an inspiring candlelit Silent Night, to Santa arriving at the Jingle Bells recessional. Christmas services are flavored with the local traditions in any country, but I can't help feeling that an outdoor service at a Basilica attended by 1500 of the faithful should have had more AND less. Less bass guitar, less animated powerpoint homily, fewer photographers knocking over the nativity and shifting the pastor amidst prayers to get Just the Right Shot, fewer balloons. More familiar hymns, more silence, more joyfullness... more reverence. The trees were dripping with strings of white lights, gulls flew overhead to reach their beachside perch, the sea breeze was refreshing, the opportunities for reflection and prayer should have been plentiful under the twinkling stars.
Alas, we merely survived the pop rendition of "Mary, Did You Know?" and the blinking animatronic Santas, and were grateful to return home to the awaiting gingerbread house, hot cocoa and gifts. Tradition in my family is to attend midnight Mass before organized gift-opening into the wee hours of Christmas Day. No one saw their beds before 2:30 a.m. thanks to early evening naps ("The Best Nap Ever" according to Nicholas) and even then there were small reminders that playing with all the toys really did have to wait until morning. Morning didn't actually arrive until after 10 a.m. as sleepy kids crawled out from their beds in new PJs and fuzzy robes before plunging into books, movies and toys, toys, toys. They rode their new bikes, plugged in iPod speakers, and trained Tekno the robo-dog. Each gift was appreciated, which made everyone feel wonderful. The kids bought for each other and were so excited to see their offerings opened and Nicholas had so many gifts we kept hearing "I love Grandma and Grandpa SO much!" Since he also received several books and his reading is taking off beautifully, it wasn't long before we heard, "I got so many books. I like to read. I'll read my books. I think I'll go read them now."
Yes, we are blessed. We are blessed to have such a giving and loving family. We are blessed to be together though we miss grandma and grandpa quite a bit. We are safe. We remember Hurricane Katrina a year ago that displaced so many. We remember back two years to the tsunami that hit this area of the world and devasted a million lives. Back five years to 9/11 and the pain our own family suffered among so many. And of course we think of all those who are separated from their homes right now, serving all over the world, seeing and doing things that others would never dream of. We remember these times and these people and we are thankful for so much in our blessed lives.