I have notified
everyone I will no longer be participating in Christmas
ceremonies. My decision has shocked friends and
relatives, to say the least. After all, years ago when
it was not common for Iranians to have a Christmas tree
and decorate the outside of their houses, I'd have a
tree and the decorations would get more elaborate every
Iranian friends would be baffled thinking I had become
Westernized. American friends were impressed by my
embracing their traditions. I had invented some story
about how it was of ancient Iranian origins and that was
why I was celebrating it. I had heard a few things about
how Iranian rituals had leaked into Roman society
through Mithraism. But I always embellished my meager
knowledge with fiction.
So by my account, all things having to do with Christmas
had started either in Iran or by Iranians. It was
Iranians who invented decorating a Cypress tree and
placed presents under it. Iranians invented outlining
their houses with lighting. They invented the concept of
the shopping season and malls. Iranians invented the
fruitcake, eggnog, turkey stuffing, and greeting cards.
Yes sir. Those cultureless Romans and Dark-Age
Christians stole all those ideas, even the concept of
Baba Noruz, which they called Santa Claus. We even
invented holiday travel when we started skipping town
over Noruz to avoid unannounced house guests who would
wear out their welcome by eating kangar and dropping
langar. I once had one of those guests. I told them I
needed to go buy some maast. I left and never went back.
Needless to say, we're no longer friends.
My reason for quitting Christmas isn't economical, even
though that's a big factor. It wasn't the inequality of
buying expensive gifts and receiving useless cheapo
trinkets. A few years ago, I got my friend a paid
vacation to Cancun and he got me a salad shooter. Of
course these things do cause a vicious circle of
compensating for last year's inequalities. The next year
he got me a giant screen TV and I got him a used coffee
mug. The year after that I got him a timeshare in Maui
and he got me a blank VCR tape. The following year I got
him a plastic aaftaabeh and he got me a Mercedes. That's
when I decided I'd better quit while I was still ahead.
Needless to say, we're no longer friends.
The reason isn't because I don't have the Christmas
"spirit". Actually I don't, but I walk around
like I have the Christmas spirit in my back pocket. I
don't even know what exactly this Christmas spirit is.
Is it hard liquor? Is it a ghost? When I first came to
America and heard everyone talking about it I had
trouble understanding. Then I thought it was about
"giving". But soon I realized that was all a
ploy on the part of Big Business to pack people into
shopping malls with inadequate parking space and stir
them into a buying frenzy in order to sell the masses
tons of useless junk. I have to admit, they do a good
job of it. Do you know how many times I bought something
because the ad said "it makes a PERFECT gift"?
I also felt very funny buying stuff for people based on
what I guessed they would like to have or could use, and
they would go buy me stuff that they would guess I would
like or could use. Why not you buy whatever the heck it
is you need, and I buy whatever I would like to have and
save ourselves the extra silly step?
To top it all off, when you open your gift in the
presence of the gift giver you have to
pretend like you're completely surprised and you have to
exclaim "I LOVE IT!" Last year I got so tired
of pretending that when I opened my present -- a semi
deluxe belt which looked like a dog collar -- I threw it
in the trash can and said "I don't have a
dog." I felt much relief. Of course, my friend, a
grown man of some respectability, started weeping like a
baby. But that's his problem. Needless to say, we're no
At any rate, I like our own uncommercialized Noruz
celebrations much better. If you like somebody, you go
visit them instead of buying them junk.
The other reason I'm quitting Christmas isn't that I've
been losing house lighting contests in my neighborhood.
I used to have the most elaborate lighting, minus things
like the nativity scene. But lately my neighbors have
been putting my house to shame. After I won a prize for
the best house decoration two years ago, my neighbor
Steve got very serious. He bought power tools, tall
ladders and about $8,000 worth of lighting. He started
putting it all up back in July. I knew I had no chance .
So I didn't want to give him the pleasure of there even
being a contest. I didn't take my string lights out.
Needless to say, we're no longer friends.
It's not that I'm tired of seeing standard Christmasy
things around this time. Like
unattractive ladies trying to set a missletoe trap. Or
charity organizations trying to milk money out of you by
laying a guilt trip on you. Or receiving tons of
Christmas cards from strangers and businesses trying to
bring you in, such as realtors, department stores and
psychotherapists. Or seeing the millionth rendition of
"It's A Wonderful Life", "A Christmas
Carol" and "Miracle on 34th Street".
In all these mushy Western symbols of feeling goody
goody there is always a hidden magical entity with a
wonderful quality which you're just not getting, and all
you have to do to get it is to just "open your
heart." Of course they don't tell you that your
heart closes again when the day after Christmas you
start taking back the junk you received (and pretended
to have LOVED). Yes, standing for a few hours in the
return line will do that to you. Needless to say, we're
no longer friends. (I had to say that to make this
paragraph rhyme with the other ones.)
My reason is somewhat selfish. When I used to celebrate
Christmas, I was the only one among those Iranians I
knew. Others would look at me funny. I was different; I
was a benign black sheep; someone who walked on both
sides of the road simultaneously; someone who dared to
celebrate another culture's rituals without losing his
I used to celebrate all major occasions. I'd go to an
American friend's Thanksgiving dinner in the afternoon,
and then I would go over to my Iranian friends' who were
getting together because they had the day off - not
because they were celebrating - and eat their
chelo-khoresh for a second dinner. On 4th of Julys I'd
go out picnicking during the day with my American
friends and then would go to an Iranian concert after
the fireworks. (It has been mathematically proven that
regardless of the occasion, for each and every American
event, there is a corresponding and utterly irrelevant
Iranian concert somewhere.)
Of course, Christmas was always the major one for me.
I'd go through the full experience. I'd even put myself
through the torture of holiday travel to fly with some
friend clear across the country to stay with their
family for Christmas. Yes. They'd have me as part of
their family and boy was I the festive one! Sometimes
they'd let me carve the turkey too. I'd watch the
football games with the guys. I'd even make the eggnog.
"Merry Christmas Harold." "Merry
Christmas June." "Merry Christmas Mary."
And they would say "Merry Christmas Hamid."
Since I was the only one who could do a little piano,
I'd play Jingle Bells while they'd gather around me and
sing. As though I had always been one of them... Yes
sir. I had that kind of audacity. Of course, you'll find
me in all Iranian occasions. Mehregan. Noruz. Yalda.
Malda. "Saal-e no mobaarak." "Mehregan ro
I always sensed a bit of envy in friends as though they
wanted to do what I was doing, except that they were not
comfortable doing it. They thought it was cheating, or a
sign of inferiority. But as people began to get settled
into the host country's culture, things changed. As kids
were born, parents had an excuse for their celebration
of Christmas, because they didn't want their kids to
feel like they were "missing out" on anything.
So now, just about every hamvatan I know has a bigger
and brighter tree, has a more elaborate house
decoration, knows all the rituals, and refers to Santa
Claus as "Santa", as though he's their pesar
amoo. Their kids can play and recite Jingle Bells,
Silent Night, The Twelve Days of Christmas, etc. How
nice. Good for them.
But for me, the novelty is gone. I'm not a rebel worthy
of being an outcast. I've been
caught up with and surpassed. All my Iranian friends are
way beyond where I was at the height of my dualism.
Christmas doesn't seem special anymore. So, I'm thinking
about taking up the Chinese culture. I hear it's the
Year of the Turkey this year.