The weeks leading up to Christmas were very busy for us over here in Kabul. Not only did we have our unexpected trip to Dubai, but the entire month I felt like I was working against the clock. With several big projects to complete by end-of-the-month payroll and the beginning of 2009, December was a month that needed overtime instead of time off. But when Karzai passed an edict mandating a week off for Eid e Qorban (the Festival of Sacrifice, celebrating when Abraham showed the faith to sacrifice his son. . . in the Islamic world, Ishmael), I quickly fell behind. Between Christmas get-togethers, work, and of course preparing for the holiday; I felt like December 25 quickly and quietly crept up on me. It was very stealth.
Most Afghans have no idea what Christmas is, why we celebrate it or even what day it is on. I was asked no less than 10 times when Christmas was, how many days it lasted, what it celebrated, who Santa was, who Jesus is. . . My favorite questions came from our chakador, Habib, who asked me "When do you start partying for Christmas? And how do you tell when it's supposed to start?" The Islamic world operates on a lunar calendar. The beginning of holidays are determined by the position, phase, and a sighting of the moon. School and work calendars always have holidays in parenthesis with people guessing the actual date as it draws closer. Holidays usually last for several days and include visiting family and friends and eating lots of sweets and food. Afghans are extremely surprised when they find out we only celebrate Christmas for one day, two if you count Christmas Eve.
Celebrating Christmas in a place like Kabul takes a little bit of creativity and effort. We already have a few in place traditions (opening pajamas on Christmas Eve, eating chocolate pudding and biscuits for breakfast on Christmas Day, nutmeg logs, to name a few) and these little traditions help us feel at home wherever we are. We were also blessed to have a whole team working together to make Christmas fun and festive, one of the benefits of sharing a home with two other families. Between all of us, we were able to pull off a great holiday.
Some things that went into making our Christmas special:
-A 24 inch tree sent from Dynamic with color changing lights.
-Baked goods sent from North Carolina. Candy Canes sent from Washington.
-Sending Agha Gul to get pecans and getting a jar full of pickles instead.
-Homemade eggnog and apple cider.
-Reading the Christmas Story together.
-Having a full Christmas dinner spread with green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing (if I had time to tell you how difficult it was to find cornmeal in Kabul. . .), punch made from a bottle of Sprite and all different juice boxes in the fridge mixed together, pickles (instead of pecan pie), and chicken pretending to be turkey.
-Skype! So great to see our families on Christmas.
-Making great memories with friends; playing Wii, cooking together, and watching Joey and Steve play with Legos that we got for our 4 yr old housemate.
Although we missed being with family, we'll always have great memories from our first Kabul Christmas.