I won’t spend my Christmas in America.
It’s not something I am proud of, but it’s the reality of my current life. Truth be told, Christmas is not my favorite time of year – like anyone else, it’s stress-ridden and marred in the potential family fight. For many of us young, ambitious types, it’s a few days of having to jam pack your schedule with relatives, high school friends, exes, former colleagues and those awkward parental conversations about your “professional trajectory.”
As an immigrant child, it also usually means taking full responsibility for all holiday festivities and any other tasks your parents needed you for during the year when you were safely in New York. Once freed from those obligations, you mastermind a plan to get out of the house so you can meet with friends for the inevitable vodka-induced shenanigans, take as many photographs as possible, and then make empty promises to “see each other more” in the new year.
A true luxury in the life of a modern adult.
Ten years ago while living in Washington, D.C., my former boss Dov Charney called me to talk about the holiday season. At just 23 years of age, he had me running three locations, recruiting and training staff, plus managing an ambitious marketing strategy with financial goals way beyond my purview. It was a wild experience working for him; I partied all night, worked all day and slept very little. At the time, the holiday season did not matter to me – making money and hooking up with the DJ from the 9:30 Club did – and so that evening, we discussed potential sales issues and after about 15 minutes, I agreed to stay in D.C. and “man the fort” during Christmas and New Years.
It would be the very first time in my life that I was not with my family to celebrate the holiday tradition.
Over the years, I’ve learned that chasing dreams doesn’t always align with keeping tradition. Sacrificing our much-needed family time for red-eye flights, job interviews, double shifts and cramming for exams has taken precedence over Christmas cookie bake-offs, mistletoe and Santa Clause. A terrible price to pay just to make enough money to ascend the financial ladder, shack up with someone else, and start celebrating those very traditions we used to dread.
I remember one particular Christmas in New York where I had much writing to do, and a job interview to prep for in early January. I bought a Christmas tree out of guilt, hung up some lights and even tried to bake a Christmas cake. It was a futile effort – but as a single girl living in the Big Apple with far more pressing matters to attend to than Christmas shop, I felt a need to fold and do something small so that my own mother didn’t feel that she’d raised a barbarian.
On Christmas Day, I took a quick stroll through the snowy 125th street in search of an open Starbucks to grab a cup of coffee before sending in my test questions for the job. I loved the quiet and passivity of Harlem that morning, knowing very well that the next day it would be bustling with people trying to break their way into the post-holiday sale.
In those moments distracted by all the things I needed to do to prepare for the new year, I did not miss Christmas, nor the idea of spending copious amounts of time with family.
I know that in reading this, it makes me sound like a bitch, but that is the truth of where I was then.
This Christmas I’m a different person, and I’ll try something new.
I will spend it in Turin with friends who’ve inevitably become my family.
Elisa, her boyfriend Andrea, her parents, her uncle and aunt, and I will sit together for an Italian family meal, toasting the holiday in a tradition unfamiliar to me. I am grateful for their generosity, their humor and their ability to shoot down my plans to stay home with a bottle of Barbera and a few old Jane Austen novels.
Being in a new country and trying to assimilate is hard.
Harder during the holiday season because everything screams family and people can’t stop asking you why you’re not with yours. If you already feel like a terrible human, you feel worse during Christmas in Italy because just like in the movies, the family is everything. So when you have people in your corner who genuinely care about you enough to invite you to their dinner table, it makes the transition process less painful, and for that I am humbled.
I look forward to this Italian Christmas with Elisa and her musical voice. I hope we’ll take a stroll down via Garibaldi after lunch and stop into the Santuario della Consolata so that I can light some candles.
I hope that I can cozy up on the couch next to her aunt and look through old photos of their summer holidays in Liguria. I hope to find the courage to call my own parents and tell them how much I miss them. I hope, that even though miles and miles away, they realize the tenacity in my dreams and understand that this particular sacrifice has not gotten easier over the years. I hope, they forgive me.
And though I may not be in America, singing carols around an open fire, or opening gifts on Christmas morning, or sliding down a snow-covered hill with my cousins, I will be home for the holidays – at least my home for now.