When my students ask what my favorite holiday in America is, the honest answer is that ANY holiday during which I am actually IN America is the best. But which one do I miss the most?
Definitely Christmas. Around the first week in December, Korea starts to get all Christmassy, with decorations, lights, and occasional Christmas carols. Nothing too extreme, really. The only places that can be counted on to have outdoor lights are churches, and you're just as likely to hear the regular pop/trash music on Christmas Eve as an actual Christmas song. But it's enough of a Ghost of Christmas Presence (sorry, couldn't resist) to remind me that I'm not home, and I'm missing out on a truly huge cultural event. And for me, it's also a family event.
My Christmases growing up were not exactly right out of a painting by that guy who paints Boy Scouts and Santa Claus all the time, but they were pretty cool. My Mom's family lives fairly close together, and usually we all met on Christmas Eve for Grandpa's oyster soup and lots of other food, turkey among them, if I could convince Mom that it was worth the trouble. After dinner we would by pass out presents, with the children (was one of them me?) helping, if not taking complete charge. We would then open them, from youngest to oldest. I was the oldest of the cousins, and it always seemed to take forever to get to be my turn.
Sometime during the evening we would go to church, for either an evening service, around seven o'clock, or a late service, around 10 or 11, and sometimes both. Usually some or all of us were participants in one way or another. We would come home, alone if it was the late service, and Chris and I were allowed to open one present.
Christmas morning was for Mom and Dad and Chris and me. Chris and I used to wake up early and go see what Santa had brought for us. I don't remember ever believing in Santa, or even talking about it with Chris. Mom and Dad might have a better idea about when that particular dream got trampled on by reality. Anyway, Chris and I had these huge, long stockings that Mom crocheted for us. As per the instructions, we hung them by the chinmey, with care. We were fortunate to actually have a chimney, which was (and still is) conveniently connected to a fireplace. Sometimes Dad built a fire on Christmas Eve, and it was the coolest thing. I don't know whether it's racial memory, or some kind of human instinct, but a fire in the fireplace is a very comforting thing, relaxing and exciting at the same time. Just don't get a fireplace with those glass doors. I mean, sure, you've still got the visuals and the temperature thing, but without the smells and the sounds, you're missing out on what it's all about!
Anyway, Chris and I were allowed to open the presents in our stockings as early as we wanted. Presents under the tree, however, waited until Mom and Dad could be there, camera in hand, ready to get those really good vibes that you get from kids getting presents.
I remember being in that vibe, living the excitement of Christmas morning, with what seemed like an endless array of presents laid out before me, each one with the potential to be something really exciting, or maybe socks and underwear.
Yikes. It's one a.m., and we have an important phone call to make in the morning. I'll continue this later.