Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Alternative Living…Without the Naked: A New Kind of Christmas

I know it’s February, but I’m writing from Paris. Here, the snow is coming down in sheets and streets are lighted like a celebration. I bought a barrel of cider and am tucked up in three blankets, sipping from a mug the size of my face. I’m wearing a tacky green and red sweater. My host family’s dining room still smells like pine. And so I thought of Christmas again.

I grew up not celebrating Christmas. Jesus’ birth was cool, my parents thought, but the whole tree, lights and second-guessing every Christmas gift was just too much of a hassle and not enough of a meaningful one. It didn’t help that I lived in a tropical country. Stepping outdoors, Christmas morning hardly meant pearly snowflakes and crooning reindeer, but rather, a feeling that I had just been barbecued by the hellish flames of the anti-Christ.

My first American Christmas experience was, to say the least, a little shocking. Some two years ago, I witnessed an over-caffeinated old man in a Santa fat suit grapple with a screaming child while his parents snapped photograph after photograph. That first Christmas, I beat my way through crowded shopping malls, wrestled with giant hams, and with all my pre-Christmas spirit, read my friends’ and acquaintances’ wishlists involving TVs, iPods and the newest line of Marc Jacobs sunglasses. Christmas had turned from a quiet, secular dinner with my family to a high-energy event involving old ladies handbagging one another trying to get the last coveted toy for their beloved grandchild.

The thing was, I bought into it. On some level, this energy was to me what America was: a constant longing for bigger, better and more, a way of defining and then achieving progress. It’s not a kind of Christmas spirit to disagree with altogether.

Things did change for me, however, this past Christmas. In a small town in Northern Arizona, far away from malls, fast cars and any kind of bling, I finished a bite of some pie I had made that morning, steaming and fresh out of the microwave, a dollop of vanilla ice cream melting on top. I looked out of the window, prepared to enter a deep, grotesquely unconscious food coma.

It was then that I realized that it was snowing. Little flakes of it were illuminated only by a streetlamp in the cold, and tucked up in a fuzzy blanket, with a cup of tea in hand, I felt a stupid, romantic feeling deep in the pit of my stomach, and it was a surprisingly fuzzy one.

I don’t suppose revelations always come like a sledgehammer, but this one did. I did not need TVs, iPods or even the newest line of Marc Jacobs sunglasses. It was nice being in a place far away from the hectic expectations of a commercialized Christmas. Christmas with money and bling would have been nice, but to a large extent, I didn’t really know if that was what I wanted or if that was what I was simply expected to want. And though bigger, better and more would have been a form of progress, there was more to Christmas Day – or any day – than that.

That led to my eventual revelation that I can live the simplest life and still be happy. Now, whenever tempted to shop like an addict, I try to ask myself why I need these things. While at first an awful experience (Why should I not, I reasoned, have the exact same tank top in 12 different colors?), I have come to realize that there is a huge difference between wanting something and needing something.

Certainly, my situation has been complicated by being in Paris, where sales are amazing and the temptation burns, sometime more intensely than being handbagged in the face by an old lady vying for that last coveted toy. But I’m just over a month into abstinence, and it’s slowly getting easier. A full month after New Year’s, someone across the Atlantic is still keeping her big resolution.

Have your own fat Santa suit story? E-mail it to Samantha Toh at samtoh@stanford.edu.