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Christmas Angst

Holiday season cookies at Starbucks, Ottawa, November 2017

A week ago, I went to The Bay to buy a new tube of the only cleanser that doesn’t dry out my skin. Priorities, I know.

“All done with your Christmas shopping?” the salesperson asked cheerfully as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer started playing for the two-hundred-and-seventy-fifth times since I had stepped into the store.

“I… well, no, not really.”

Malls are designed to make consumers lose track of time but I was pretty sure it was still November 27—and who has Christmas figured out in November?

“Well, that’s a good start,” she noted encouragingly, ringing up the purchase. “Do you want a gift receipt for it?”

“Oh, it’s for me,” I blurted out.

This was one of those times when I should have told a white lie. Probably unimpressed with my selfishness, the salesperson handed me the bag without offering samples.

It had started to snow, so I walked through the Rideau Centre to store up some warmth before heading home. I passed a mall Santa surrounded by screaming infants and toddlers, a group of Chinese tourists taking selfies by the giant Christmas tree, shoppers carrying gift boxes and store windows displaying ugly Christmas sweaters.

Once on Mackenzie King Bridge, just as I thought I had stepped back into a world that wasn’t yet counting down the days to December 24, my phone whistled. “Instant pot is now 40% off,” Amazon informed me, probably because I may or may not have looked at this item six months earlier. “Get it in time for Christmas!”

“I know we have to spend money to save capitalism and all, but Christmas overkill is ridiculous,” I mumbled to myself, rushing through the deserted business centre. I turned into Chinatown. “And what’s next, right after opening gifts? Boxing Day shopping!” By the time I reached Little Italy, another retailer had sent me  “Christmas specials.” I flagged it as spam turning onto Carling.

Then, on Merivale Road, a few blocks from home, I hid behind a fir tree and burst into tears.

Seasonal holidays stress me out.

I don’t feel like shopping because I know I can’t buy what I need to deliver—Christmas magic.

Before Mark, during the holidays, Feng and I were either: 1) travelling 2) working (time-and-a-half pay, yay!) 3) going counterculture, getting up at 2 p.m. and eating at Burger King because we hadn’t bothered filling the fridge but had plenty of coupons on the table. However, I’m afraid Mark isn’t ready yet to give up on consumerism. He is bound to hate me for something at one point in his life, but I’d rather it not be for failed Christmases.

I’m no longer just slightly homesick around the holiday seasonI’m terrified I’m not giving Mark memories he will cherish, the full 18-years-of-magic all kids celebrating Christmas deserve.

Here are a few things they don’t tell you about being an immigrant. First, adapting to a new culture isn’t that hard—you just have to observe people and go with the flow until you figure out what they do, how they do it and why (then you can ditch what truly doesn’t make sense to you—you won’t see me wearing shorts because it’s “only” 0ºC). Second, thanks to globalization, ties to your former home country won’t be completely severed. Technically, you can probably import any product you’re missing badly—I could empty my bank account and buy two kilos of blue cheese easily.

But the sad truth is that reproducing traditions you had in a land far, far away is damn-near impossible. Nothing will ever feel the same.

I was that child reading toy catalogues for weeks before Christmas but I can’t pass down this tradition because all we ever receive are pizza joints flyers and IKEA catalogues Mark has zero interest in. I was that child staying up late waiting for my aunt, my uncle, my cousins and other family members to arrive but Mark isn’t expecting relatives he doesn’t have. I was one of the ten-to-twenty family members at the Christmas dinner table but in Canada, including my in-laws (who don’t always celebrate with us), there are only five of us. Mark will never make the last-minute trip to the bakery to pick up the bûche de Noël, he won’t enjoy a French Christmas feast because oysters, foie gras, turkey, chestnuts, smoked salmon are too much work to source and too much food for just three people.

So, I have to focus on finding the perfect gifts, which isn’t as easy as it should be. Apparently, Mark has two wishes: not dying at 100 years old and being old enough to watch Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Oh, he wants toys too, but he isn’t very specific and I already feel we are surrounded by toys—toys I step on if I don’t turn on the lights, toys under the couch, toys meticulously lined up on every surface at Mark’s height level.

So far, the only Christmas gift idea I have is for my in-laws. Last year, I presented them with a 2017 photo calendar featuring Mark. The mix of their two passions—calendars and their only grandson—was almost praiseworthy, so this year, I’m making them… ta da… a 2018 calendar featuring, you guessed it, Mark.

Alright. I’m going to stop freaking out about Christmas and check the TV rating for The Walking Dead. Hey, maybe there’s an episode that won’t scar Mark for life.

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