Christmas, love

Like many children, when I was young, there were few days in the year that made me want to get up early. Christmas is such a day. The very early morning of Christmas was very cold, sticking out one leg was enough to shiver. My family's old red brick house is nearly 150 years old, with many cracks and holes making it easier for the cold to penetrate. Everyday, we would wait for Dad to wake up and burn wood in the furnace. But because it's Christmas today, and we know Santa has come over while we slept.

 "Dad! Have you lit the fire yet?", I shouted. My younger brother Anthony was also very alert, but he was still buried under a warm blanket. He also shouted, "Mom! Tell me to light the fire!", Then he continues, "Merry Christmas Jesse! Merry Christmas parents!"

 "Oi! It's 5 am and noisy! Go to bed now!", His father growled. But how to sleep after Santa has come to his house? So we got out of bed, our lips were purple with cold, our bodies were trembling. This is the happiest day of the year, a temperature of minus 20 degrees Celsius cannot stop two children.

Downstairs there is the biggest Christmas tree that Dad can cut from the forest and tuck through the door. The room and the tree are decorated with beautiful sparkling lights. Under the tree is more than one hundred colorful Christmas gift boxes wrapped in paper. Waiting for my parents to come down here, we were allowed to open, all the special socks filled with candy, chocolate, and small gifts inside.

Not long after that, maybe because Anthony and I were so noisy, Dad woke up to light the fireplace, went out into the snow and fed the horses. And the mother prepares a special breakfast with a special beverage - Eggnog. Grandparents from far-away cities will visit their homes, have breakfast together, then start opening "Santa" gifts.

I don't remember how old I was when I knew that Santa really is a mother. I love Christmas, the feeling of giving gifts to everyone I love makes me happy many times more than the recipient. Mom started buying presents for Christmas in June. My old house has 17 rooms. She hid presents in unused rooms where I didn't dare to go in for fear of ghosts and spiders.

It was so long ago that I forgot what Christmas really is. Since then, I've put Christmas in a corner of my heart. And in many articles, I also declared war on Christmas. I have exposed many organizations that just want to take advantage of Christmas as an opportunity to drive people's minds, or to find ways to get money out of your pocket. During the Christmas season, I turned into a stone, feeling no more.

Recently, I rediscovered its meaning even though it was obscured by bad things. It camouflages, hides me, is buried deep in trade, consumption and many customs from religion. I waded deep enough into the "disliked" pool, until today, the first year I was going to celebrate my Christmas party at home, I felt sorry for ignoring it, feeling sorry for my mother.

I love Christmas more than anyone else, I know it but I have never understood why. I didn't care how Mom felt these days. I remove Christmas from my life, ignoring it for years.

It sounds strange, how can a Westerner hate Christmas? It is like a Vietnamese who hates Tet, very rare. But I hate consumerism, and the pragmatic aspects of holidays. I have once dared to criticize the negative aspects of Vietnamese Tet in this column.

But, when you focus only on the negative side of something, it grows inside you and you get excited. The part of the brain responsible for managing emotions - amygdala - will be controlled so it becomes vulnerable, always under attack.

Last week, I took a motorbike taxi from the airport to my house. The driver seemed to hate Saigon traffic as he walked and exasperatedly pointed out faults in traffic laws and drivers. However, I realized he was too focused on it. Even while driving very slowly and carefully, he could not take his eyes off the mistakes of those around him. And then a young man accidentally ran close, colliding us down the road. My driver went crazy, swore repeatedly, took off his helmet and threatened the young man with his life. He swung his helmet almost to hit my head. The young man was so scared, quickly moved away. The driver chased near a kilometer, swearing in anger.

I just sat calmly and realized that, if you focus too much on negativity, it will eat you. The driver can't even control himself. The focus on negativity has become so great in the brain that it controls him.

The next day of the motorcycle accident, I sat down to think and tried to find the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas is a few days in the middle of winter, near the winter solstice day. In my opinion this is not accidental. Legend has it that in the cold and harsh northern countries, food was not easily preserved, could not be imported, it was such a harsh existence that many people died. As the longest night drew near, the winter drew back, hope began. The first original Christmas was the celebration of the hardest time of winter. In Western films and stories, the true meaning of Christmas is the Christmas spirit. Each story about Christmas has a common feature is that the main character finds out what has been lost after focusing too much on vices, or engrossed in making money and giving up the true feelings around him. The real answer to the meaning of Christmas is: Love.

For nearly 10 years I have lived in Vietnam and have not been back to Canada, every Christmas nearly 14,000 km from my family, my mother still sends me a gift. That is love. Pure and simple, love for your family, for your friends. It's a celebration of love, unfortunately wrapped in customs from so many religions, including cultural customs, that value can easily be forgotten.

And I finally understood. All that is not good is just an obstacle for us to overcome, or grab it and ignore as we grow older. Christmas is the love deep in your heart, is a celebration of love with life, loved ones and everyone.

The good news is that even when you have closed your heart from it, you can always love again. For me, it was one more time falling in love with Christmas.

Jesse Peterson
(Originally in Vietnamese)