During all my years as an international college student in the US, I spent Christmas at home in Germany. I experienced the pre-Christmas times in California, Connecticut, and New York; but then, a few days before Christmas, I would jump on a plane and fly across the pond to be with my family.
While the holiday season in California is too warm for my taste and not very atmospheric in New Haven, Connecticut, I have always loved and always will love the weeks before Christmas in New York City.
In the beginning, I was surprised at the overflow of Christmas decorations I saw on every skyscraper in the city and in every garden and window in the suburbs. I lived in a small town in Queens for a while, and each house there had its special decorations, ranging from huge brightly lit reindeers and Santa Claus props in the front yards to chains of little Christmas lights wrapped all over the buildings. And once, when my boyfriend and I took a cab to my place on a late December afternoon, I pointed in awe (whether it was a positive or negative emotion I can't tell) at a monstrous plastic Grinch figure, a character from one of the very American and very famous Dr. Seuss books, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The Grinch - an ugly green fairy-tale creature perched on the balcony of one of the neighborhood houses - was dressed as Santa Claus. Even my boyfriend who, as an American, is quite familiar with the American way of decorating for Christmas, thought the grinning monster was quite a sight.
Of course, in Germany, we decorate, too. But our decorations are not nearly as loud or striking. Neither are our Christmas songs in the department stores. I must say, Germans celebrate, as opposed to Americans, a very subdued "sometimes even slightly boring, but peaceful" holiday season. When you walk into a German store, you might hear a few verses of "Silent Night" coming out of the loudspeakers, but there will be other songs in between, and you'd never spend hours in a store listening to Christmas songs, let alone the same ones, over and over.
Not so in the US. One of my favourite leisure activities in the US was (and still is when I'm there) spending long wintry afternoons at Barnes & Noble. Especially during the holiday season, I enjoy wandering along the book aisles, holding on to my cup of hot Godiva chocolate with both hands, and listening to the Christmas songs floating through the store. Well, now, there may be people who are afraid of an overdose of "White Christmas," "Jingle Bells," or what not; and I must admit that, from time to time, even I, the New York city pre-Christmas lover, used to feel a bit irritated after two months of holiday hoopla. But last year was different. Last year, I savoured every song and every garishly conspicuous decoration.
Last year New York was bold. And I wanted it to be bold. Bold enough to celebrate Christmas. Last year, the grinning Grinch-Santa-Claus replaced the American flag that had been hanging from the balcony since September 11. And I thought it was a wonderful replacement.
New York had long become my second home by the day the towers of the World Trade Center crumbled into dust. But on that day, I remembered the first time I came to this city nine years ago, at the age of 19. I remembered the times I came as visitor and as a student; the times when I loved being there, more than the times when I felt the city was too noisy and too stressful. In the days after September 11, when everyone pulled together, I remembered why I'd always loved the city's energy - that seemingly incomparable energy that moves you through the crowded, flowing streets of Manhattan.
New York was able to survive. And while there were threats of more attacks, fears of anthrax in our mailboxes, and the National Guard with machine guns at Penn Station, New Yorkers replaced their patriotic flags with Christmas decorations, a silent but clear statement that said, "We won't give up."
When I boarded my plane last year to go Germany for Christmas, New York wasn't what it used to be. But it hadn't lost its strength. New York celebrated. New York was bold. And I left a city of lights.
by A. J. Neudecker of Seven Seas Magazine