One of the things I never missed about America is the super-saturation of Christmas spirit in the month and a half leading up to Christmas. And I know, I know, everybody complains about how Christmas carols start way too early in the stores, but look, I have to be a Typical American in some way, right? I’m supposed to be representing all of us. (Except that doesn’t really count, because the Russians complain about how early New Years decorations go up, too.) But the pre-holiday cheer is much more humane in Russia than in the States. Of course, there were decorations way earlier, as I mentioned back in October, but as far as I’m concerned, those decorations are much more classy and actually attractive than the red-and-green gaudiness we usually get in America. I went into a Dunkin Donuts the other day, and all the employees were dressed up as elves. One woman had candy canes dangling from her glasses. Why, America? WHY? But the biggest difference is in the music piped into commercial establishments. In America, we have the constant recycling of a few dozen old Christmas tunes over and over and over again. In Russia, the music is the same as it always is. I like this.
And I think that part of why I like to keep the cheer at bay for as long as possible is that without family, it’s just annoying. It’s not meaningful. As soon as I got home to Greensburg, I turned on the Christmas cheer full blast. Esther and Dad and I went out to Domasky’s to cut down a fresh Christmas tree. Back at Mom’s, I played our five Christmas CDs pretty much as constantly as Esther would let me. I baked gingerbread cookies and Esther and I decorated them. I made hot chocolate. I wrapped presents and even went shopping a tiny bit, even though I thought I’d bought everything I needed in Russia. (I ended up mostly buying clothes for myself.)
Sitting around the tree opening presents with Mom and Esther on Christmas Eve, a mere three days after my return, I felt at just the right level of holiday cheer. And the next day, as Christmas Day came to an end, Esther and Dad and I lit the Yule log from last year, and settled in to watch the flames, to the accompaniment of Bing Crosby in the background. It was just about as idyllic a Christmas moment as you could ask for. But by the time Bing was done, so were we. I think five days of highly-concentrated Christmas spirit with Mom and Esther and Dad is just about as much as I ever care for.
Because the real Christmas spirit doesn’t come from the shopping and the decorations and the music. Even when I was at Smith, still in America, I managed to avoid the December holiday commercialism pretty well, whether because of the hipster atmosphere of avoidance of the mainstream or because I was just so lazy that I never wanted to walk down to the CVS. I can appreciate Russian holiday culture, I can love to be with my college friends, but it’s being home with my family and doing things the same way we’ve done them for almost ten years that gives me that warm, cinnamony, Christmas feeling. So, okay, I could’ve just told you to go read How the Grinch Stole Christmas! for the same end effect, but I’m pretty sure the Grinch never went to Russia. So.