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On My Christmas Journey And Finding My Christmas Spirit

My earliest memory of Christmas is of a 4-year-old me in India, assembling this big hollow star made of plastic; you were supposed to fix lights inside them and hang it up. The next memory is a year or two later in my dad's hometown, at my grandparent’s house decorating the tree with my cousins. Then going to church at midnight and staying at church ‘til the very morning. Throughout it all, I just slept like a boss on my mom’s lap and whined about when we could get home. Presents and Santa Claus were not a big part of my family tradition. It was the idea of being around family that I remember when I think about Christmas. Decorating the tree and going to church was all there was to our Christmas tradition. In fact, it was not much of a tradition at all. The day held bible significance but wasn’t much of a celebration within our household. 

But over time, our celebrations died down. As I grew older, I realized that my parents had very different opinions about Christmas. My parents are of two different branches of protestant Christians, Christianity has a lot of big and little branches with very different variations and beliefs. So my parent’s beliefs about  Christmas and the idea of celebration were very different. While my mom did not believe in celebrating Christmas at all, my dad very much did. Due to their differences, Christmas was not much of a celebration as it is in most homes. Not like the ones you saw in Christmas movies. It did not bother me much as I only lived with my sister and parents, and we lived in China, where Christmas wasn’t a thing. But like any other child, western movies and shows made me feel as though I was missing out on a beautiful experience. 

To my surprise, those dreams came true sooner than anticipated. In the last couple of years, I got to experience all the magic of Christmas. Not only that, but I also have come to have a different perspective on Christmas as a celebration. Though my direct family does not live with me in Canada, I have distant relatives living here in Ottawa. In my first year here, I celebrated my Christmas with them. For the first time, I decorated a huge tree, one that reached up to the ceiling. My newfound cousins and I took hours to decorate the tree, sharing stories, laughing, and reminiscing about the little things. That night we all dressed up and went to church. It was my first Christmas away from my family, going to church as an adult. Stepping in, I felt anew, like I just passed a milestone. It felt like I was starting a new chapter in life, where I make my traditions, values, and beliefs. That year I didn’t even get to spend Christmas Day with them. With tight exam schedules, I had booked a flight to go to China (I was born in India, but lived in China for a while. My family is still there while I'm in Ottawa for Uni) on the day of Christmas. Long story short, I had to stay in Toronto the night before I got on my flight, so I stayed at my best friend’s aunt’s house. I had never met them before and I was spending a day with them on Christmas. They were extremely nice to me and treated me like family. They weren't Christians but even in their home, the Christmas spirit lingered in the air. They had little decorations around the house, and to my surprise, they had invited people over for dinner and even had Christmas presents prepared for me. On my way to Toronto to their house, I was quite heartbroken about the fact that I had to travel alone on the day of Christmas. But my friends' relatives made me feel at home. 

So last Christmas, I actually got to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my distant relatives in Ottawa. And this time around, it felt normal. This newfound energy and Christmas spirit I have been so eagerly hoping to experience finally came around. It was becoming my new normal, a normal I gladly accepted.

There are a few things I learned from this journey. From my Christian perspective, I personally do not believe that Jesus was born on this day. Which explains why my mother didn’t understand or agree with the idea of spending a random day and giving it significance while associating it with concepts that don’t relate to her religion. But Christmas has become something more than just a religious celebration. It has become this idea of familyhood, memories, joy, and a sense of togetherness. That is the Christmas spirit we all feel, regardless of our religious affiliation. 

Therefore, this will be my Christmas tradition; all beliefs set aside, Christmas is a day where I get to be around the people I love, to remember the days we have lived, the memories we have created, and the milestones we have crossed. It is a day that showcases our growth and the relationships we have built along the way.

Sherlly Russel

Carleton '22

Your not so average, complicated, and multicultural brown girl. Born and raised in India, middle-school, and high school in china, university in Canada. Conversations about philosophy, cosmology, cross-culturalism, and religion are right up my alley!
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