Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Tigers

Another recycled post from my now-defunct personal blog, The Border Fence. This one is from 19 December 2006. A safe and happy holiday season to all.

It’s a quiet night in Maryland and I am enjoying one-upmanship on my behalf. Each person in the house is cooking a dish, and soon the kitchen table decked out in Marimekko is populated by different entrees: whole fish in sauce, pork and peanuts, scrambled eggs with tiny fish, perfectly cooked vegetables, and tofu stir fried with mushrooms and bacon. I make a mental note to discuss this last dish with all the vegetarians I know.

The project involving visiting Chinese lawyers will wrap soon. They will fly home on New Year’s Eve, and are thinking about things to do with their last few days in the US. They ask me to suggest some activities, a question that comes as second nature by now, considering I have been running their lives for the better part of 6 months. I have never spent the Holidays in DC, but I rattle down a list: the Messiah at the Kennedy Center, the huge Menorah at the Ellipse, the rather quaint trees at the Capitol, Union Station and behind the White House. I warn them that all museums close on the 25th and that maybe they can take the opportunity to sample some local cuisine. They shudder at the thought, but reveal that they have partaken in a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon tradition.

“We went caroling yesterday around the neighborhood with the church from down the street. Can you help us figure out some of the words?”

I smile at how new the age-old songs must seem to them. I am giving a thoroughly parsed booklet and go through the circled words:

“Bethlehem is the town where Jesus was born. Noel is another word for Christmas, and it comes from the French NoŃ‘l, a manger is where you keep animals. Gloria in Excelsis Deo is in Latin, not English, and it means Glory to God Above / in Heaven. Hark is a call to attention, I think. Ye is old English for The. Christ/Jesus/Christ the Lord is sort of used interchangeably […]”

“Will there be fireworks for Christmas?”

I am sorry to disappoint them, especially because they arrived in DC right after the Fourth of July. Maybe there are firework displays in the South, and in some locales for New Year’s, but not anywhere near them.

“Do you have fireworks in Mexico for Christmas?”

I set my tea down. I remember pointing empty Coke bottles at the sky, the perfect launching pad for whistling rockets, running around on the street in front of and behind spinning multicolor rosettes, covering my ears as black cats popped without much show. My grandfather’s gift of Bengal lights, his hand holding a Zippo steadily beneath a bumpy gray rod almost as tall as me, with ignition revealing millions of bright orange limbs that clawed into the night sky.

“Of course. Mexico is the land of Christmas tigers.”

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