The merry and not so merry Christmas from Kashmir, India.

merry_christmas_2013-srinagar_kashmir_india

Merry Christmas from Srinagar, Kashmir!

I’m writing this post a day late as I reflect back on my Christmas here. It had me thinking about a lot of things on what Christmas has meant to me over the years. I’ve had 28 days of Christmas in my life each bringing a new experience. This one was no different.

Christmas Day 2013 – Srinagar, Kashmir

Srinagar is 90% Muslim so Christmas didn’t exist here anywhere I could see. There was no Christmas decorations, holiday sales, or yule tide cheer. I didn’t hear a single deck the halls, jingle bells, or talk of a red nosed reindeer. The only sound heard was the 5 time a day reminder to thank Allah for everything you have.

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The 5 times daily call to prayer for Muslims comes from here.

The family had dinner together because the family always has dinner together. That’s what family does. It was rice, dal, vegetable, and chicken. The same thing the family eats everyday. On Christmas the family dinner was Romana, Sana, Humara, Fajad, myself, and the Chinese tourist whose name I never spoke but fondly remember. We watched the evening television drama that we did every other night; laughing, talking, and enjoying each others company.

There wasn’t the usual fork on my plate this night so without saying a thing I indulged the way they do; with their hands. It’s a skill I had only done twice before but have watched everyone around me do for every meal. The first thing you do is break up all of the larger chunks of rice. Then you take the liquid and the contents of the dinner and mix it together between your fingers. Afterwards you form it into a sticky kind of ball of curry. The trick to feeding yourself without having to tilt your head back and drop it in your mouth is to push the contents into your mouth with your thumb.

 muslim-family-srinagar-kashmir-india

Part of my Kashmiri family.

It was nice being so far away from it, but my access to the internet reminded me of what I was missing. Throughout social media were photos of people opening presents with their kids, being with family, and enjoying Christmas dinner together.  I wanted to be Santa Claus and fly around the world bringing presence to all of my favorite people.

I wanted what I couldn’t have and the feeling filled me with an ugly shade of jealousy. 

It brought up lots of bad childhood memories and had me feeling sorry for myself. It reminded me of feeling guilty because my mother would get upset at me when I said I didn’t want anything for Christmas. It reminded me of my father’s judgement when I wasn’t getting people around me presents. It reminds me that I don’t like giving and receiving presents and would rather avoid you than do that.

I abandoned materialism when I was 15 years old after a traumatizing experience in life. Through an act of violence I lost someone I loved. After that the video games my grandmother would have given me for Christmas didn’t interest me anymore. I just wanted to enjoy as much time with the people I love as possible. Since then I’ve only been able to see the idea of presents as a frivolus waste of time, effort, and world resources.

Christmas is the king of presents and people spend months preparing for the mass of stuff they plan on buying for each other. They work more hours to shop at stores that close later, and there’s less time spent doing things they love with people they love.  Christmas makes me feel like shit for being me and not wanting to participate.

Then I felt empathy for those who have it worse off than me.

There are worse situations in the world than one where someone wants to get you something. I could be in prison, on death’s doorbed, or living on the streets cold and wet with no where to go. Instead I was just miserable in my head trapped in my own persistent thought loops. My heart stopped aching for myself and felt broken for everyone else who felt broken instead.

Then I closed my eyes and listened to the words of the birds singing outside of my window like a caroler in the cold. It’s harmony reminded me of the perfection we’re a part of when we learn to turn off the voices in our heads. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas, the day after, whether your family is blood or found.

Despite everything, life is perfect just the way it is.  

And that’s why I don’t want anything else for Christmas.

  • Brieana

    Christmas has shaped into a materialistic frenzy of madness. Instead spreading kind words to a person you love, that has been substituted with a bunch of wasted paper that goes into the fireplace, with a hunk of plastic that will ultimately be forgotten. I would rather much have people tell me how much I have meant to them, instead of receiving stuff I don’t want to carry around or store or keep track of. Its the kindness of someones appreciation that will stick around longer then the things they bought me. If it holds some kind of sentiment to it, ill take it.

    And with that said

    Chuck, I hope you know that on Christmas day I was thinking about you. I love that you have been brought into a family, and no matter how humbugish you are about Christmas, I am glad you were with people on that day who appreciate you.

  • Alexa

    I’ve never liked to give a present because I “have to” not even with birthday presents, and when I see other people do that, (giving presents every “special” time) sometimes makes me feel like a “bad friend” who doesn’t care…. but then I think about it and…well… they are not wrong and neither do I, I like to give something when i feel like I want to, it could be a hug, a gift or just a casual call, text or email.
    I don’t even like my mom giving me gifts, I really don’t feel like I deserve it… just because is a “special” day? what did I do? hahaha
    This year my christmas present was being with my family, over the years, i’ve been giving more priority to my friends instead of my relatives… I thought that this time I was going to be their present (selfish me) making and “effort” and “sacrifice” so my mom could be happy, it turned out that I really enjoyed my christmas night, playing with the kids, helping in the kitchen, taking pictures, and leaving my phone and computer away… It was nice…and I learned my lesson.
    I’m glad that you are learning and appreciating everything around you… keep doing that, that makes you the great guy you are, and i’m very thankful for having you (in some weird way) in my life, thanks for your friendship, your wisdom and advice… Merry Christmas.

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