I fully recognize that it is much too early to be discussing Christmas caroles, but it IS autumn and I have been thinking about Christmas Caroles. The thing is, I love autumn. It is my favorite season, at least at home in DC/MD. At home, the trees change color to burnt reds, browns, and oranges. The night air also carries a smokey, burnt scent. In Madrid, I don’t get the same romantic and nostalgic feel that is so comforting in the fall. There is no Holloween. There is no Thanksgiving. And finally, although they do play some American Christmas caroles, it just isn’t the same. Actually, it never really is ever the same. I am sure that if I were in the States, Thanksgiving and Christmas wouldn’t be the same either, just as Holloween ceased being special for me when I was probably 12 or 13. Nevertheless, when nothing else is left, I still rejoice in listening to my favorite Christmas caroles. Why? Beware, this is long and boring, and this is why:
I suppose I had always looked at the course of a year as a V. From upper left towards the bottom, you had September to the end of December. Then you had January moving upwards towards June. June would then connect horizontally towards the left to September to form a perfect isoceles triangle. In the mind of a child, September to December was the most exciting time of the year (enhanced by the fact that I had allergies to spring time pollin and regardless of the fact that my birthday was at the end of March). My guess is that for Spanish children spring and summer with the Semana Santa break and the long summer vacation were their corresponding joyful times. Not for me. I looked forward to Holloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Holloween was a time for friends and freedom. We would carve up pumpkins into Jack-o’-lanterns, get all dressed up and venture out into the night. This was not without a certain degree of anxiety. There were bullies (who would steal your goodie bags and slash your pumpkis) and stories of wierdos who stuck razor blades into chocolate bars. But, it was a wonderful time with the scent of the candles burning inside the pumpkins. This feeling lasted until around the age of 13 when trick-or-treating was no longer cool. And as a college student, trying to think of a cool costume was too much of burden for me to enjoy, even if it was generally the perfect opportunity for a new fall romance.
Then came Thanksgiving on the forth thursday in November. Thanksgiving is the holiday when the most people travel in the US. It is the time when people meet with their extended family: grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. For my family, Thanksgiving meant traveling to New Jersey. We would spend Thursday through Sunday with my maternal grandparents, with the sole exception of Friday when we’d drive to the Bronx to spend time with my paternal grandparents and cousins. Thanksgiving in New Jersey generally meant me with my brother and sister, parents, maternal grandparents, Uncle Randy, and maybe some of my grandparents’ friends. On Thanksgiving, we had the typical turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie, and football games and the rest. Then on the following day in the Bronx with my parental grandparents, we would eat eggplant, lasagna, baked zitti, meatballs, finished off with wallnuts and an assortment of Italian pastries. We always got to see my cousins Susan and Paul, my aunt Rosemarie and Uncle Charles, and great Uncles Ralph and Tony and Aunt Ruth. The oncoming winter night was cold and pitch dark. I always loved that ride back from the Bronx to New Jersey. Are stomaches were so full of Italian food and the radio had begun to play the first Christmas caroles.
The official Christmas season begins on that Friday after Thanksgiving. You get one full month of Christmas caroles. Here in Spain, I can’t wait for Thanksgiving for that single reason, that I feel it is okay to pull out my Christmas music. I have Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Pavarotti, and the Vince Guaraldi Trio playing A Charlie Brown Christmas. I some times wonder what my neigbhors here in Madrid must think of my blasting American Christmas caroles starting in the middle of November. I am lucky that my adopted Spanish in-laws, Fernando and Amparo, love it when I bring Nat and Dean over to warm the season.
In any event, then came that month long advent calendar on the wall as my brother, sister and I would eagerly await Christmas morning. While we always spent Thanksgiving with our grandparents in New Jersey and the Bronx, we spent almost every Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning at home in Potomac. That’s how it works. Christmas was very much for the immediate family, and I loved spending Christmas at home more than anything else. Christmas also had the added attraction of great animated television specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas, the Little Drummer Boy, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and Frosty the Snow Man. Life couldn’t be better. My sister and I went crazy for those shows. But then as you get older, you really don’t care that much about getting presents or Santa Claus.
And I guess that is how it all changes. My maternal grandmother died, and we no longer went to New Jersey for Christmas. My sister was married and moved away and my brother was away in college. Thanksgiving wasn’t the same in DC/MD. And that was okay, too. Christmas also lost its special feeling. I realized that Christmas if for kids. For my sister and her kids Christmas is magical. It was for me. I have all of the memories of waking to see the presents. My parents were amazing about presents. But while in my family Christmas was for the immediate family, my immediate family no longer is made up of kids. It is like we are all grandparents. And that is fine too. As I said, I don’t need that kind of Christmas right now.
Nevertheless, what I cannot live without is good, old-fashioned Christmas music. And I can’t stand the idea of not spending Christmas at home. Unfortunately, living abroad makes going home for Christmas a nightmare with long lines and weather delays. But at least I get to see my parents and shuffle around to see family. We usually don’t spend Christmas day at home anymore, but go to the Bronx. That’s helps me make up for not having a Thanksgiving anymore. So, I now I live without autumn. No red leaves, no pumpkins, no Thanksgivings (even though Fernando and Amparo do prepare a make-shift Spanish variation for me). And there really is no more Santa Claus or anxious boy peeking to catch a glimpse of the tree. Luckily, I still have my parents and brother and sister (with her own family). And I do have Nat King Cole and Company. Some day I may start all of those traditions that my parents and grandparents gave me when I was young. But for the time being, when I can’t go to places that no longer exist, can’t find those loved-ones that I used to find, and can’t be that person I used to be, I will do what I do everytime I get on that plane in December. I will dream of a White Christmas and sing about being home for Christmas.