When I was a kid, we lived next to an orthodox jewish family, the 5 kids in their family matched up to the ages of my siblings. Miryam was my age. We spent a good amount of time at each others homes. I remember the day that it finally sank in that her family did not celebrate Christmas. Of course, growing up in Encino, I understood that Jews didn't believe in Jesus and all, but Christmas was another story, surely. Wasn't it?
"so no baby Jesus ornaments on your tree?"
"nope, no tree."
"but where does Santa put the presents?"
"wait but who brings the presents?"
This was mind boggling enough but when she told me that keeping 'kosher' meant she had never tasted a cheeseburger, I nearly fell out of my chair.
Fast forward 18 years and I'm spending Christmas in a country that celebrates countless amounts of gods and holidays, none of which I include a nativity scene, and certainly no red suited giver of gifts. I'm feeling discombobulated all over again. How and why am I here on this day, thousands of miles from my friends and family?
Suffering from a decent bout of homesickness, I responded to a flyer that advertised a Christmas Eve gathering at the Oasis Cafe. There, we were served spiced milk tea, cookies and popcorn and they played a movie about Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus. A German girl got up and explained the basics of the Christmas holiday, and a Tibetan translator translated for the monks in attendance. Then an Israeli girl got up and explained that although Jesus was from Israel, Jews don't believe he is the mesiah. This left the Tibetans quite confused, and even I had to sit and ponder that one. Meanwhile the Muslim guys in the back are reading the subtitles out loud and the Canadian at my table is explaining to the Hindus sitting next to her what the word 'Mesiah' means.
Passing popcorn and Christmas cookies around during the film, I'm feeling so happy that I've found myself in a welcoming place on this day. When the credits rolled, the two Muslim guys at my table say "wow, that is such a great story, how brave Mary was! And Joseph, what an amazing man.- this is such a wonderful story." that's one of the beautiful things about mcleod ganj, everone here is truly here to learn about and appreciate each others cultures. Needless to say, the warmth of he holiday spirit was all around me. You cannot imagine the feeling of all of these different faiths gathered in one place out of respect for your holiday. Another generous gift from the strangers in this foreign land.
I finished off the night with a king fisher beer at a pub with some Tibetan guys I've gotten to know. They too are all alone in this strange country (planet?) - many without hope of ever seeing their families again.
So tonight, my so cal family is hanging out on the beach in del mar - will anyone brave the waves? My norcal family, no doubt, has a crackling fire going in the den. Luca Shallenberger and Finn Griffiths, sons of two of my best friends are celebrating their first christmas, and i will be pleased to make their acquaintance when i return this summer! Santa's logging extra mileage to bring Mia Bowman her gifts all the way to okinawa. Gunner is enjoying a belly rub from Scuba Steve. And John is celebrating with his co-workers in an undisclosed location in south west Asia. He's such a joyful dude that I'm sure he's having a great time. I will be boarding a 13 hour bus to Delhi on Christmas night and then on to Agra. Merry Christmas to all of you, I miss and love you!