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Shape of a Holiday

Every year, around this time, I rewind to Christmas in the mid-80s. For the sake of clarity, let’s say 1985.

When I was little, my family didn’t totally get the whole holiday season thing. I remember explaining the importance of stockings, and how critical it was that I acquire a Santa hat with my name written on it with Elmer’s Glue and tri-colored glitter.

My parents moved to the U.S., from Iran, in the late 70s – so, while the Persian New Year was THE event of the year for my family, Christmas holiday time was THE event for me. I was the self-appointed Christmas Ambassador and everything I learned about the holiday season came from overhearing conversations about Christmas and Hanukkah – all of it. So we’d all strike a pose to take the ubiquitous “our-umpteenth-Christmas!” photo next to our little fake tree. It was great.

What I learned about the holidays in the U.S. was that it was something I could celebrate too, even if my family was Muslim. And because we didn’t have a set “standard” or clear holiday or Christmas tradition, we did whatever we wanted.

Like the time my mom tinseled every morsel of the house – the place looked nuts. Or the time my dad hid in the garage as Santa Claus and scared me pale (I was expecting to meet the guy at the mall like everyone else did). We’d have big “extended friends” holiday parties where, instead of holiday carols, we would blast Persian and Flamenco music and dance all night around a Christmas tree. Another year I spent Christmas night in a church with my best friend that lived across the street, singing hymns and lighting candles.

I learned that a holiday season can really look like anything so long as there is love, generosity, and a little relaxation. But every year can’t promise all three… just as every memory can’t stay contained in a perfectly tied box.

It feels nearly impossible to reminisce over holidays this year without thinking about the victims of the horrendous family murder spree just this past week in Montgomery County. In the early morning hours of December 14, a former Marine reservist shot and killed six members of his ex-wife’s family (and critically wounded one more) at three individual locations. The victims were his ex-wife, former mother-in-law, former grandmother-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, nephew and niece. Shortly thereafter, he ended his own life.

During a time when homes should feel warmer by hugs and well wishes, a community has been rattled, a family devastated, and countless people are asking questions.

On December 17, A Woman’s Place thoughtfully shared reactions from AWP community members. Erin, another AWP volunteer, eloquently commented, “This case, like so many others, has brought the devastating consequences of familial violence to all of our doorsteps”

She’s right. It has. This story came to my doorstep, while I, like many others this time of year, was preparing for a season of laughter, recollection, warm faces, and the feeling of safety around family and friends.

With this tragedy in my heart and mind, I pay forward what I’ve learned from my family’s way of assimilating to an American holiday season – to let it arrive in any way or shape it needs to.

This year, the holiday season comes with a collective awareness that domestic violence lives within the fabric of everyday lives, and with reminders that there is more work to be done. This holiday season will be shaped by moments of silence – moments to mourn the sorrows of 2014 and to envision our hopes for a more peaceful 2015.

AWP Volunteer

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