CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD
from Linda Lee Greene, Author/Artist
How much easier it would be for me to fulfill a commission to write an article titled ‘Christmas Around the World,’ if I were actually free to travel, but I do not have that freedom for various reasons. Therefore, I call on my crafty Muse to settle on my shoulder and whisper in my ear an imaginary tale of travel, one in which I call on a number of women in faraway places, each of whom is immersed in high holiday celebrations unique to her culture. I am giddy over the prospect of beginning my make-believe trip with my Muse depositing me smack-dab in the presence of a Native American sister.
Paulette welcomes me into her kitchen and then very graciously explains that embracing the Christian tradition is a thorny issue for many of her people given the injustices that America’s indigenous people have faced under white domination, both in the past and the present. Even so, the good spirit of the season permeates her culture in admirable ways. “You showed up just in time to catch me before I leave for a meeting of the Partnership with Native Americans (PWNA),” Paulette informs me. Responding to the quizzical look on my face, she continues. “We spread holiday cheer in the way of blankets, nutrition and education services, medical screenings, and more to over 30,000 of our Elders, children, and families in approximately 110 reservation communities here in the Northern Plains and the Southwest. Winter is brutal in these reservations and rural communities, and we work hard to come together in the spirit of giving at this special time.” Upon making my exit into a frozen morning, I drop a couple of Andrew Jacksons into Paulette’s PWNA donation basket and cringe at the gruesome symbolism of that particular face being imprinted on those U. S. $20.00 bills.
I suppose my Muse took pity on me and decided to thaw me out, because in the blink of an eye, I am stretched out on the blinding sand of a beach in Melbourne, Australia. I am clad in a bathing suit, and the unmistakable aroma of seafood sizzling on a grill within smelling distance floods my mouth with saliva. Jingle Bells, the jolly Christmas song, rings out from an electronic device. The incongruity is not lost on me as I push to my feet to the greeting of a scantily-clad blonde goddess waving a barbecue fork in her hand. “We thought you were dead to the world, myte,” she says to me. “Come on and git yerself a plyte. It’s prawns on the barbie, stryght from Dad’s boat this mornin’.” Kathryn is the name of this supernatural being, and she is only one of many just like her in her large circle of beach party buddies. Someone thrusts a frosty bottle of beer in my hand and I recoup my senses enough to inquire, “Jingle Bells?” “What else?” Kathryn replies. “It’s Christmas! Eat up! Drink up! The day is jist gittin’ started. You don’t want to miss Carols by Candlelight tonight.” “Carols by Candlelight?” “Yeh, you know! The big charity evint to help out the needy in the community.” To get in the spirit of things, I chug the cold beer and pretend the hot white sand squishing between my bare toes is bone-chilling snow.
A strong scent reminiscent of home that I am powerless to resist lures me away from summertime Melbourne to a cozy dining room in Tokyo, Japan. A table laden with buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken is occupied on all sides by a young Japanese family comprised of a mother, father, and two children. Apparently, I am the only dinner guest at what Aimi, the lovely mother, explains to me is their “hidden Christmas”. While the stigma of what in Japan is mainly a secular event is dissipating thanks to ubiquitous Western influences wrought through television and social media, influences such as America’s KFC as the food of choice for Christmas Day in Japan, still many people whose leanings remain Shinto or Buddhism, observe the day on the quiet. “It ruffles fewer feathers that way,” an otherwise very Japanese Aimi tells me in ironical American terminology.
Muse is anxious to send me further into my whirlwind tour, and next, and for a minute or two, I wonder if Muse has time-slipped me back to America’s Old West as the gentle steed on whose back I ride trots me beneath a wide, wood archway that spans an opening in split-rail fencing on both sides. The fencing wanders and then evaporates into what appears a boundless, misty landscape. A carved sign in wood at the crest of the archway proclaims, “LET’S GO GREEN!” And then I know I am in current time, the ominous Climate Change time that does not withdraw to a voiceless corner even on Christmas Day. Great plumes of crystalized breath billow from the nostrils of the horse, and my own frosty breath hazes the lenses of my spectacles. I am in cold, cold country—not quite to the Arctic plain, but close enough, I am pretty sure. No level treeless tundra is this, though, for there are evergreen trees, evergreen trees upon evergreen trees as far as the eye can see, planted in deliberate, neat and regimental rows, like line upon line of locked-arm chorus girls frocked in frilly green. Donned in blue-jeans and a fleece-layered black-and-red-plaid flannel shirt, a Paul Bunyan-like figure materializes out of nowhere suddenly. “Welcome to Saskatchewan’s Evergreen Tree Farm. We’ve been expecting you. I’m Anne,” this burly Canadian female greets me. “You look like you need a warm-up. Come on up to the house. There’s a rum and brandy hot toddy there with your name on it.”
A profusion of Christmas decorations, evergreen garlands, and twinkling lights at every door, window, and eave forms an almost impenetrable obstacle course to the entrance of the place. In the wake of my hostess, I step across the threshold and enter a winter wonderland, a plethora of all things Christmas. A steaming mug of the hot toddy beckons me to the table upon which it rests, and on the stovetop, the valve on the lid of a pressure cooker dances up and down. The aroma emitting from it is heavenly. “Have you ever had frontier bison stew?” Anne asks me. My stomach drops to my toes and I shake my head. I feel my enthusiasm wilt to a point of no return. I am not so sure my belly is ready for frontier bison stew. “I thought bison was an endangered species,” I state, my mouth going desert-dry in my unease. “Our First Nation people have taken the herds in hand and are bringing the numbers back to almost double now,” Anne explains. “The grazing habits of the herds are also reestablishing the indigenous grasses that are much better carbon capturers than non-native plant-life that was introduced in colonial times. With their bison and my trees, the First Nation people and I are working hard to do right by Mother Nature.”
Don’t get me wrong. My gratitude for all of Anne’s hospitality is as mammoth as the woman herself. This big-hearted female had a hot toddy waiting to warm my icy bones. And it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if she had grabbed that bison by its horns in her immense lumberjack hands and wrestled it to the ground all by herself, and then saw to all further machinations to get it into her pressure cooker just in time for my arrival at her tree farm this Christmas Day. And while I also appreciate all the laudable environmentalism, suffice to say that my main motivator at the moment is finding a gracious way of sidestepping Anne’s looming offer of a bowl of that bison stew. I send a private, silent message to my Muse that I am ready to move on to the next spot on my journey. Muse hears my plea and at mach-speed, I turn up in Jerusalem of all places, which I am to learn is planet Earth’s ‘City of Three Christmases’.
While terrorists are wiping out Christians far and wide in the Middle East, the Jewish state of Israel is the one place in the area in which Christians can practice their religion freely. Their number is small: only about 2.5% of the total Israeli population, but Christmas celebrations are large. I meet up with Susan in a library on an outskirt of Jerusalem. She leads me to a table on which lays an enormous tome. She invites me to sit next to her, and she opens the book and I follow along as she spins an intriguing and complex story of Christmas in Jerusalem, the index finger of her right hand tracing the lines on the pages like a sightless person reading braille. Now and then, her head lowers to within mere inches of the book for a closer look at the ancient, fading text, and a crucifix suspended from a silver chain around her neck drops forward and drags across the pages. It seems a confirmation, of sorts.
“The Christmas story took place in Israel,” Susan reminds me. “But through the centuries, and for a variety of reasons, the different factions of Christians have not come to a meeting of minds on the actual date of the birth of Jesus. So you see, Christmas in Jerusalem is not a one-day affair. Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians celebrate the day on December 25th. Orthodox Christians do so on January 6th, and Armenian Christians on January 18th.” Susan implores me to stick around and partake of an array of dazzling festivities commemorating the holiday, but by this time, I am more than ready for crisp air and fluffy snow and a bona-fide traditional Christmas as I recognize it to be—a Midwest America Christmas of time spent with family and friends, of sharing food and memories, of gift-giving and receiving amid the ambience of a gorgeously adorned Christmas tree and sparkly mantel and tabletops aglow in candlelight. As ever, my Muse reads me and transports me back to my home.
My wise Muse arranges my return trip to be a bit slower than my arrivals had been, to give me time to reflect on all I had experienced. The impression most indelible in my memory is the evidence of Creator’s handiwork in those places, of the sights and sounds and aromas, and in the people and their talismans for good such as Paulette’s donation basket, Kathryn’s barbecue fork, Aimi’s KFC bucket, Anne’s trees, and Susan’s crucifix. And I wonder now, what’s in store for me on my next go around!?
Readers were introduced to American Nicholas Plato in multi-award-winning author Linda Lee Greene’s A Chance at the Moon, which was published in 2019 and is available on Amazon.
Greene takes readers on yet another adventure of Nicholas’ whirlwind life in her Garden of the Spirits of the Pots, A Spiritual Odyssey. In this sequel, Nicholas shows up in Sydney, Australia. The principle plotline unfolds as on one Saturday of sightseeing he gets lost in Australia’s forbidding yet alluring outback, and there he happens upon a pintsized hut on a lonely plot littered with hundreds of clay pots of every size and description. Driven by a deathly thirst, he stops. A strange little brown man materializes out of nowhere and introduces himself merely as ‘Potter’ and welcomes Nicholas to his ‘Garden of the Spirits of the Pots.’ Although Nicholas has never laid eyes on Potter, the man seems to have expected Nicholas at his bizarre habitation and displays knowledge about him that nobody has any right to possess. Just who is this mysterious Aboriginal potter?
Although they are as mismatched as two persons can be, a strangely inevitable friendship takes hold between them. It is a relationship that can only be directed by an unseen hand bent on setting Nicholas on a mystifying voyage of self-discovery and Potter on revelations of universal certainties.
A blend of visionary and inspirational fiction with a touch of romance, this is a tale of Nicholas’ journey into parts unknown, both within his adopted home and himself, a quest that in the end leads him to his true purpose for living.
Garden of the Spirits of the Pots is available in eBook and/or paperback on Amazon.
Multi-award-winning author and artist Linda Lee Greene describes her life as a telescope that when trained on her past reveals how each piece of it, whether good or bad or in-between, was necessary in the unfoldment of her fine art and literary paths.
Greene moved from farm-girl to city-girl; dance instructor to wife, mother, and homemaker; divorcee to single-working-mom and adult-college-student; and interior designer to multi-award-winning artist and author, essayist, and blogger. It was decades of challenging life experiences and debilitating, chronic illness that gave birth to her dormant flair for art and writing. Greene was three days shy of her fifty-seventh birthday when her creative spirit took a hold of her.
She found her way to her lonely easel soon thereafter. Since then Greene has accepted commissions and displayed her artwork in shows and galleries in and around the USA. She is also a member of artist and writer associations.