In Iceland, Christmas does not start until the first Sunday of Advent. This year, it falls on December 2. However, I come from a country known for having the longest Christmas season in the world. The Filipino Christmas officially starts on September 1 and ends on the first week of January. So, all this Icelandic pooh-poohing is making a depressing dent in my early Christmas preparations.
When I moved to Iceland, many of my co-workers were flabbergasted to learn that Filipinos celebrate Christmas. Not many knew that the Philippines was under Spanish rule for almost 400 years and consequently 90 percent Catholic. So, when I started cutting up colored paper for Christmas lanterns, there were puzzled looks in their eyes. Then again, it could also be that those looks were because I started putting together Christmas lanterns in September.
It has been a trial, a gigantic effort to conform to this Icelandic restraint. Right when the “ber” months (SeptemBER, OctoBER, etc.) roll around, I cannot help but bring out the Christmas boxes, dust off those holiday cookie recipes and hope to high heavens that my Icelandic Grinch misses those unlit Christmas lights on our windows (yes, strategically placed right behind the curtains).
My Grinch does not want to compromise. “Horrors!” he said, “What will our neighbors think?” because apparently it is a major social violation to even have a smidge of Christmas spirit peeking from your windows before Advent. Once I tried tuning into the Christmas channel online and he came barging in with righteous indignation in his eyes.
Hoping to get sympathy points, I broached the subject at work. I thought that with a broader audience, I had a better chance of finding a like-minded soul. It was already October then, well into the “ber” months and people were starting to discuss holiday plans. When I carefully segued into Christmas lists (done by then) and Christmas trees, an uproar ensued. Oh no, how tacky of me to suggest that decorations can be up by October! When a colleague found out that I was done with my Christmas list, she shot me a smile full of ill-concealed loathing.
Then came November. Slowly, supermarket shelves started to fill with Icelandic Christmas products. Yes, in Iceland, they have Christmas milk, Christmas cheese, Christmas beer, Christmas soft drinks, Christmas chocolates, Christmas chocolate chip cookies, Christmas butter and pretty soon, I suspect, eggs will be sold in Christmas packaging. Surely, evidence of Christmas consumerism is a go-signal for putting up holiday decor?
Apparently not. The first week of November, I received a phone call from the distressed sister of a recently discharged patient. Apparently, our once dangerously depressed patient has finished decorating her house for Christmas. Her sister was worried that she was getting manic. After that, I kept all that Christmas longing to myself.
I don’t get it at all. This restraint. Christmas is Christmas and if we can prolong the spirit of good cheer, why ever not? Sure, there is consumerism and all the bells and whistles of a spendthrift lifestyle, but with it comes warm, fuzzy and bursts of emotion.
Filipino friends were understandably sympathetic. Our shared cultural experience of Christmas in the tropics contrasts sharply with Scandinavian utilitarianism. Over enthusiasm overChristmas is our norm. How else can you explain tropical transplants from a country recently named by Gallup polls as the most emotional nation?
Christmas is literally just around the corner and this time I will not be deterred. Decorations will be up before December comes. Next time though, I will do as a Filipino friend living in Keflavík did. He never took his Christmas lights down so when the “ber” months came around, he simply just turned them on.
Marvi Ablaza Gil – firstname.lastname@example.org
Marvi Ablaza Gil moved to Iceland in 2008. She works as a nurse at the Acute Psychiatry Unit of the Landspítali National University Hospital in Reykjavík. Back in the Philippines, Marvi worked as a feature writer (lifestyle and travel), editor for a broadsheet and operations director of a travel and tourism publication.