Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas in the Kingdom

Can you find 5 clues that indicate that this photo was not taken in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

The hubs and I have decided to take Saturday off from work so we can celebrate Christmas together. It'll be an interesting day as it will be the first Christmas either of us has ever been away from our families. This is also the first Christmas for me in an Islamic country, so it's been an odd holiday season.

Before we arrived in Saudi Arabia, I had visions of a religiously oppressive people who had no idea what the Christian holidays were or how they were celebrated. I was surprised to find that my students and co-workers know a lot more than I gave them credit for. Granted, my girls don't really understand that Santa Claus is not in the Bible and that Jesus wasn't acutally born on December 25th, but they know more about the significance of this holiday than I thought they would.

A couple weeks ago, one of my eighth-grade girls asked me if I was going to be absent on Christmas. "I dunno," I answered, "Probably not. I have to work."

The whole class collectively gasped! "What?! You're not going to be home for Christmas? You're going to work on Christmas?!"

I was baffled that my girls were having much the same reaction that my conservative Christian family members and friends back home had when I told them the same news. I'm pretty sure my kids' understanding of the traditions of Christmas are limited to what they see on the Disney Channel, but it struck me as funny that they were so horrified that I was actually considering working on Christmas Day! ...I'm also pretty sure they have no concept of exactly how long it would take for us to fly home for Christmas and still be back to work on Sunday....

But I digress.

Naturally, a few things are going to be different this year as compared to every other Christmas we've ever had. Here are a few of them:

The weather: This one should go without saying. I'm sitting here in shorts and a t-shirt, getting a sun tan as the afternoon sun beats down through my window. Meanwhile, back at home it feels like 19 degrees Fahrenheit and there's a chance of rain/snow showers tomorrow afternoon. Anyone who has had the miserable pleasure of knowing me in a winter season knows how much I hate to be cold. I am most definitely NOT complaining about this particular change in my Christmas routine.

Decorated houses: When I was a kid, we used to go to my grandparents' house for the days just before and just after Christmas. It was the only time we got to see our grandparents, and now I certainly wish I'd appreciated those visits more. As a kids, however, my siblings and I got bored. Fast. So as a distraction, my parents would pack us all up and we'd drive around and look at the decorated houses! This was a novelty for us because we didn't really decorate our house--I grew up in the woods, literally. You didn't see our house until you were right in front of it. So why decorate it if no one but us is going to see it? After a few years, it became old hat to see houses decorated with lights and later the hideous inflatable things that infest front yards today.

There is none of that over here in Saudi Arabia (obviously I'm not shedding any tears for the lack of a giant inflatable Snoopy in our neighbor's yard). When I was on the Aramco camp a few weeks ago, that little kid that peered out of my Grandaddy's backseat came out again as I drove by an American's house dotted with colored lights and said, "Ooooh! Look at the liiiights!" Perhaps it's a good thing that we aren't drowned in the glow of twinkling beacons of holiday-ness. It makes it that much more special when we finally catch a glimpse of the magic.

Time off from school/work: I keep catching friends and co-workers from home updating their facebooks with things like "Out shopping with the kids" or "Movies and hot chocolate with the family in the middle of the day" and I want to comment saying, "DON'T YOU PEOPLE HAVE TO WORK!?" And then I remember. They don't. It's Christmas break at home, and while I'm still a slave to the 5:15 wake up call, they're sleeping in, going to parties, and generally enjoying time with family.

Working has certainly served as a great distraction from the fact that I won't be with my family on Christmas, and it's definitely bizarre to think that right now I'm on my "Christmas break." At home you call it a "Three Day Weekend."

The gifts under the tree: There are Christmas trees available in the Kingdom--shh, don't tell anybody. It's funny because we heard about this Christmas Black Market from a friend who told us in hushed tones the name of the guy at a store who would lead you to the "back room" where all the Christmas paraphernalia was hidden. We kind of laughed and decided against the cloak and dagger method of spreading holiday cheer. We especially laughed when we found out the dinky little 3 foot Christmas trees were going for $50-80 a pop!

Thanks, but no thanks.

We joked about getting a palm tree and having ourselves a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but the fact of the matter is that it's not the tree that makes the holiday for us. So we have no tree this year. And we have no presents to put under it.

Oh, we've bought each other presents. They're just not here. We decided to get ourselves Kinect games for the Xbox, but the ones we want aren't available in the Kingdom yet, and they're too expensive in Bahrain. So we turned to Amazon...which won't ship video games to Saudi Arabia. We've had to get a little crafty with our gift purchasing, but let's just say that Santa's going to be celebrating the Epiphany this year and won't be making his delivery at this house until January.

As for gifts for our family and friends, we did a lot of online shopping and a lot of donating to charities in people's honor. Yes, there are authentically Saudi gifts we want to give, but it'll have to be Christmas in July because we don't trust the Saudi Post to get our gifts to their intended destinations (no offense, Saudi Post).

I'll be sure to report back after the Big Day with a full update on how we spent our time. Until then, ya'll enjoy your carols and hot chocolate and warm holiday goodness.

Vicariously yours,

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