So, it is Christmas Eve, which for me is the favored holiday, one brimming with hope and joy about – tomorrow. That is the part I like to hold on to somehow. I see Hacivad Bey nodding his head at me and Esma, smiling at me through her open-eyed meditation. People around the world are preparing for tomorrow with gusto and joy, right? I wish it were so in this house. As I peel potatoes and stuff the lamb leg with garlic and rosemary, not without a few tears, I think about the others in my life, and what they have been up to in these pre-Christmas days…
The Mozzarella Mamma is preparing the intricate brodo for her Italian Christmas Eve feast – much to the delight of the Roman butchers. Another friend may be watching her mother prepare Christmas tamales out in the southwestern U.S. and a third is likely watching her neighbors do up Christmas in a large, over-the-top Texan style – will that involve BBQ? My parents are out delivering Christmas cookies to neighbors, my neighbors delivered Christmas cookies to us, some for us, some for our dog. My best friend is spending the night solo, in peace, probably reading a good book and drinking some red wine while her daughter visits her father. The man who helps us clean his house is volunteering at a local shelter, perhaps to erase his memories of his wife’s violent death in their home country. My student and her family are mourning the tragic death of a young one in the family – at the hand of his brother – an accident. My teaching mentor is celebrating Hanukkah with her partner and kids, the first after her cancer diagnosis. Another friend-colleague has celebrated the Winter Solstice with her family closeby, pomegranates abounding.
Kenne, self-proclaimed puppet queen of etiquette and protocol, finds that her head is spinning at all of this – how can the Christmas traditions be so varied? I remind her it is not all about Christmas in the United States – it is about Solstice and Hanukah and other traditions as well. Incredulous, Kenne asks “Is there not ONE protocol to stick to?” No, I say lightly, traditions abound, traditions all around. I think to myself, “But above all, I am supposed to be happy today, right? Joyous, even? Isn’t the kernel of joy supposed to be in me and in my interactions – wouldn’t the Mevlana himself say something like this, Hacivad Bey?” Hacivad Bey sends me a silent messages, and encourages me to look to the light. It’s hard to look to the light when my sister with a disability is struggling, my husband is grumpy and distant, my dog just threw up all over the carpet, the lamb has an unexpected bone in it, the Christmas presents are not wrapped, I never got to the salon to get a much needed haircut and I still have 9 more papers to grade (what better time to write a blog post). Of course, these are minor problems in the larger scheme of el mundo around us, it is just where I am right now.
And this is when there is a great smash and crash. All the dishes are falling off of the counter where they are drying – M. was nice enough to do the dishes (which he does often) but stacks them precariously. What the hell, it’s our old friend Karagöz – who decided to let off a little bit of holiday aggression (he has had it with the Tree fairy delegation’s Christmas visit) by jumping across the plates, not realizing their chance of falling. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Karagöz…he’s been suffering through the introductions of his fellow shadow puppet troupe-mates like a too-long jazz set with too many players, too many solos and too many introductions when one’s hands are red and sore from clapping already and you didn’t much like the band anyway, but wanted to be respectful of their effort and their own joy in the music.
Lately, this independent spirit, well, he’s had a host of family time, taken on a lot of household duties in the face of my overwhelming professional and personal life, experienced a host of worry about difficult problems we face as a couple in the larger family context, had a bucket’s worth of concern about a family member and a good dose of the feeling of powerlessness about some elements of all of this. Lately, Karagöz has had to put up with me being wound up like a spring, exhausted and overwhelmed but wishing I was not even though I can’t possibly do better. It is not easy for him to see his human in this state, I am sure. And it’s the holidays. And we have family in the house, and it is nice in some ways and very stressful in other ways. Mix that all up and you have one hell of a spiked holiday punch.
That punch is so spiked, it is going to break your Grandmother‘s crystal punch bowl set in a hot minute. You better watch out, because there’s gonna be toxic Christmas brew with crystal shards all over the dining room in a few minutes! Ok, I am getting carried away with my metaphor here, Kenne, who wants me to keep up appearances, is afraid that you, dear readers, will think that this means there will be the breaking of glass, by humans, in my household. Not the case. Have no crystal punch set, want no crystal punch set. Just going over the top on the verbose imagery – as that is WAY better than grading my last chunk of papers for the fall semester.
But back to Karagöz, or is it M.? Both of them have had just had enough of living other people’s way, both of them say they are not going to take it anymore, that they want to live life on their terms, with their traditions and in their idea of quiet and about their idea of what is a meaningful holiday without pomp, circumstance and family expectations that leave him (I mean them!) stressed out – and hen-pecked by me as I try to fit us in to those pigeon holes in order to fulfill other people’s dreams for the holiday, and a few of mine, too. I find it odd that the more that Karagöz rages around in his silent glum-ness, the more I notice it in M. Is Karagöz helping me to channel what M. is feeling?
Raised with Christmas as a time for reflection, togetherness and giving back, the holiday holds buttery yellow memories for me, faded like sepia-toned photos from the 1920s in a crumbling album of my Granny’s. My forties bring me the logic that makes me know in my bones that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be – and that there were plenty of rough edges. But the smell of the fireplace, of the balsam wood incense, the orange pomander balls made by that fire, the tartan blankets and hot mulled cider of my youth – by snuggling up to my Granny who smelled of Florida floral water even in the winter…these memories are alluring. Even more, knowing how important a festive Christmas celebration is to my parents makes me want us to fit in to a too-small shoe. Yet somehow, we as a couple don’t fit Christmas – it doesn’t fit us together, and while M. suggests we just do it separately, it is unfathomable for me to think of this. It actually physically hurts me to think of this. I get mad at him for even saying so, even though I know people find ways to make deals in a marriage, for the good of the whole.
Saying that I am actually the stressed out one (and perhaps I am, but am not in touch with it), M. has gone silent on it all, but I know how he is feeling as he has let it be clear, so of course, Karagöz is pantomiming all of this out for me so that I can figure it out better. And Hacivad Bey is telling me to look at my part, that maybe, just maybe, I was a bit tense too, and could have let it go when M. didn’t care to see what “we” were gifting the rest of the family so it was not a surprise. That’s what the puppets do, you see, to help me along sometimes. I mean really, who gives a hoot OR a holler about that? M. tells me that my anxiety about bigger things comes out through dumb things like this. I don’t see it in the moment, but now I do. SO, you might say to me, who gives a damn about presents, knowing what is going to whom, really, I mean, come on! And I might say yes, you are on to something there.
And you might say to Karagöz, “Well, Karagöz, jeez, it’s only a couple of days out of the year to do things the way of your in law family, man, hold yourself together for the good of the whole – I mean, Karagöz, it’s not all about you, right?” This seems reasonable. Hacivad Bey nods his head and says “Yes, m’lady, it does SEEM reasonable to YOU. But, as one part of this couple, you must honor your partner’s feelings.” I look at Hacivad Bey, the calm Sufi mystic puppet, and say “and how am I supposed to square that with my family’s expectations?” To which Hacivad Bey looks at me and states “the way will become clear.” And I know he is right, and I wish that I did not feel all of this so intensely, and could let it go a bit, knowing of all the troubles elsewhere in the world – cliche but true.
Meanwhile, Karagöz is ignoring my conversation with Hacivad Bey, cursing up a storm in Turkish, with the likes of Ölürken havalanan ruhunu sikiyim to the more benign “Esek oglu esek.” You don’t want to know, trust me! If there is one thing I have learned, it is that Turks have the best-swears-ever. That Karagöz, he might as well say that he’s gonna blow like a volcano – and not as elegantly as the molten chocolate cake one might refer to as a volcano in a too-precious and somewhat expensive eatery. This puppet is “ready to rumble.” Of course, Karagöz is to an extent ALWAYS ready to rumble – but usually there is an element of impishness or tomfoolery in his readiness to rumble. Tonight, it is not like that. Tonight, he storms off to bed in his olive oil bath (to keep himself supple for puppetry, and china stomping). M also storms off to bed, telling me he just wants peace, quiet and togetherness, without the pomp and circumstance (e.g. etiquette, dressing up, making small talk at the neighbor’s party when they can never remember his name, etc.).
Truth be told, Christmas is never an easy time for us as a couple. As much as I am trained to think about and anticipate our “cultural differences” – especially after a failed first marriage to someone of a different culture, somehow I managed to color over the lines on this one, without noticing. Yes, M. was raised in a secular household – and went to mosque maybe 2-3 times in his life. As a child, he tells me, he wished that he felt the sense of the thing that other kids and adults referred to as God. He wanted to feel God. He did not feel God. As an adult, he is pained by the cultural and political ills that religion can lead to in outlier situations such as Iran, Afghanistan, etc., not to mention the treatment of the Alevi in Turkey. And he is not alone with that when it comes to me. But honestly, it isn’t really about religion, the tension at Christmastime. It is about the one-step-removed from religion set of family traditions based loosely around religion, I think. Perhaps, I think, for M. it is about the burdens of a childhood filled with memories about family fights on bayram (holiday) days. I suppose somethings are not remembered to forget, and it is hard to let go. There is a reason someone emigrates half a world away, I suppose. Somehow, in this difficult moment, I find myself married to that person – when I couldn’t be farther from him in my choices-or nearer to my family on this bayram.
So, will the boat rock n’ roll on Christmas Eve, or Christmas? I hope not. We’ve been down that road before, and I don’t want to go down that road again. Let’s hope that Karagöz can find some dramamine sans drama in the medicine cabinet. Let’s hope I can too. It does, after all, take two to tango. Perihan Hanım , my puppet fairy godmother, will you visit us? Will you help us through the tough patch as we work to take care of one another, against, at times, all odds? And as if by magic, M. arrives with a hug, and offers to go out to get the last-minute items that I have forgotten for our Christmas Eve dinner.
- And on the 12th day of Christmas: Meet Hacivad, the inimitable and learned Sufi leader of the puppet troupe (slowly-by-slowly.com)
- Karagöz: Consider this a formal introduction to himself (slowly-by-slowly.com)
- The Twelve Days of Christmas: Karagöz puppet-style (slowly-by-slowly.com)
- Karagöz is up to his tricks, this time with a “ghost post:” The puppet troupe responds (slowly-by-slowly.com)
- After the storm: Karagöz puppets gone wild (slowly-by-slowly.com)