Unconventional Christmas brings plenty of food for thought

By: 
David Phillips

It must have been the unconventional weather that made Christmas seem more like Easter, but my wife and I decided to have an unconventional Christmas last week. We celebrated the Christmas holiday with family on Christmas Eve and the weekend before with our traveling son so it was just the two of us in our home on Christmas Day.

Since we were alone and had little food in the house, we ventured out for a Christmas meal. Instead of turkey, our meal was Chinese food.

As we made plans, I considered the community Christmas meal, but felt I would have guilt pangs about not covering it for our paper. The guilt wouldn’t have come from expectations of people at the meal, but that internal voice that keeps me in line.

I’ve worked plenty of holidays, so that wasn’t an issue, but I felt this time I needed a break from work and the house, which, for various reasons, my wife and I have been confined to much of the month.  So, we headed up the highway to one of the few restaurants open on Christmas.

We weren’t the only ones to decide on an unconventional Christmas meal. The restaurant was full, including a couple from near our home who, like us, had family coming around Christmas, but not on Christmas.

We had our fill of Chinese food and came to the traditional fortune cookies. My message was something about if you are having a crisis in confidence consult your elders.

My wife joked that we are the elders now.

That made me think we are in trouble because I don’t feel so confident about anything anymore. You’d think I would be at this age, but there are so many uncertainties in the world today, I don’t exactly feel secure about dispensing any wisdom about what comes next.

We continued our unconventional Christmas at home by watching a movie, “Blinded by the Light,” which combines two of my favorite things, writing and music. However, it was quite unconventional in that it was about an English boy born to Pakistani parents who fell in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen. His very American lyrics have a universal appeal, even to an immigrant family in Europe.

Besides the humor and good music, the movie is inspiring as the main character finds his voice through writing and, by the end, attempts to build bridges. However, it is also somewhat depressing as racism is a constant presence throughout the movie.

The depressing part isn’t that racism existed in the 1980s when the movie is set, but that it is making such a comeback 30 years later.

One scene shows a march of the National Front, which is sort of the British equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan except the members don’t hide their identities, when the Pakistani family, on its way to a wedding, is attacked. There are other scenes of vandalism and aggressive behavior against immigrants during this time of high unemployment.

However, Springsteen’s music is the youth’s salvation and when he gets a chance to visit Springsteen’s hometown after winning a writing contest put on by a nearby college, he takes the opportunity to visit a country where he insists people aren’t prejudged. His trust is confirmed when he gets a warm welcome from the customs agent who jokes he can’t think of a better reason for an English Pakistani boy to visit New Jersey than to see the home of the “Boss.”

Today, that scene might not play out the same. Immigrants are often targets in the United States now. Just across the state line in Iowa, a woman allegedly ran down a random 14-year-old girl merely because she was Mexican. That’s just the most recent incident in a number that seems to be growing.

Later that night, after contemplating the fortune and movie, I unwound by walking our dog through the Christmas darkness. It was a relaxing end to an unconventional day following our ever-optimistic dog who finds joy around every corner.

As we made our way through the darkness, the Christmas lights displayed in the front of several houses brought a calm, even inspirational, feeling to me. It brings home the Christian meaning behind the symbol of light — hope and good in the world.

So, I returned home feeling more hopeful, although not necessarily overly confident, as I call it a day on this Christmas that included a mesh of cultures and traditions, even ones that take an unconventional turn.