For the first time in five years I walked into a store last week and found Christmas decorations! It was almost too good to be true! I took about half an hour to peruse the aisles and found myself looking at everything with great interest - cookie tins, red and green candles, candy dishes, sparkly garland, Santa hats, and more.
My last Christmas in the States was in 2001. I'd just graduated from grad school and returned from my first trip to Asia (Thailand), which was a graduation present from me to me. September 11th was still looming. I think I spent the holiday with my relatives in Portland, although it's hard to separate my memories of that year from memories of the other years spent with family. Bankers rarely get extended time off at Christmas, so I've always had just a day or so of a break.
From 2002 through 2005 I spent Christmas, and every other holiday, alone in Japan. I found Christmas-y things to do - one year I saw the Nutcracker in Hiroshima and one year I went to an amazing production of Handel's Messiah in Fukuoka - and enjoyed finding new ways to appreciate the season. But it wasn't the same as being surrounded with family and the comfort of familiar traditions.
Before living overseas I would have looked in disgust at the decorations, thinking to myself, It's only the first week in October! I would have had lots to say about commercialism and holiday stress and blah blah blah. But not this year. I'm thankful to have a new perspective and am looking forward to taking it all in!