My daughter already forgave me by the time she was twenty. Until then every year around the holiday season I was reminded of the meanness of the act pulled upon young two souls, and questioned, “How could I?” - even though my intentions were pure and well-meant. But I know that, as with most things in life, lessons worth learning take time and the trials we stand may sting and hurt while we endure them.
I knew raising my children in a mixed-faith union would be a challenge – not that I or my husband had been a strict observer of either one's religion. He was born into a Roman Catholic family and rejected his faith; while I was born into a Muslim family who never obliged me to practice it. However I was expected to marry within the same faith. Youthful idealism of the eighties fooled both of us that if we raised our son and daughter in an unrestricted, open milieu they'd develop the wisdom to chose for themselves whichever faith their hearts favored in due time.
At least our hearts were in the right place.
Thus we celebrated, or rather acknowledged, the two Muslim holy days as well as Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas along with birthdays in our household. In Islam, however, the holy days do not evolve around giving gifts. I would recount my children memories of my youth spent in Turkey and what we did on those Bayrams. One followed the month of Ramadan, so it was called the “festivity of sweets” - Seker Bayrami. The other has a parallel story to Abraham's sacrificing a lamb sent to him by God, just in time to spare his own son. So during the “festivity of sacrifice” - Kurban Bayrami - families who can afford, buy a lamb and have it sacrificed. They then give its meat to those who cannot afford to buy meat during the year.
I recall the repetition of certain motifs from the bayrams of my childhood, and like the well memorized nursery rhymes, whose intimacy provides a certain comfort and peace to one's soul, it was those remembrances that I often shared with my son and daughter. Years later I can still see two innocent faces, kissed with the wonder and limitless imagination of childhood. Their cheeks, cupped in their little hands supported on elbows resting on the floor as they lie on their bellies, listening to my stories of a long ago and far away land of bayrams and sacrificial lambs.
I was a stranger to the idea of buying gifts, exchanging presents, wrapping, decorating homes, boxing day or Christmas carols until I came to Canada. My holy days brought me a new pair of shoes and a new dress sewn by my mother twice a year for the occasions. After dressing in our Bayram garb, my sisters and I lined up to kiss Babacim's hand and lift it up to our forehead in respect to wish him a happy bayram. There would be a Lira coin exchanged in that hand kiss to which I always reacted in surprise and controlled happiness. That was our “bayram spending money”. We did not get an allowance at other times of the year because my parents bought whatever we needed. So with a whole lira coin each, my sisters and I felt like millionaires for a day knowing we could buy gum, candy, and a bagel - and still have change left over.
During the morning we visited the elderly friends, relatives and our teachers, bringing Turkish delight as a gesture of respect - and would be served the same with fruit juice, tea or coffee. In the afternoon, my parents received guests themselves. The radio was always on, from which happy tunes and Turkish folk music (türkü) permeated the air.
As a teen in Canada, I did enjoy the difference to which I was exposed. I loved the carols, the lights, the decorations on the store windows, the elusive magic in the air. We had none of that in my home. I secretly longed for Christmas. When my parents listened to Turkish LPs on the stereo cabinet on Christmas day, I hid in my basement room and listened to the carols on my little transistor radio. I started a little secret gift exchange with my sisters – a pair of earrings, a book, stationary. Then we decided to make this a legal practice and came out by asking our parents if we could give presents on New Year's Eve. They must've thought it was harmless enough. For the last three years before leaving my parental home, after our capon dinner, the laundry basket filled with small, gift wrapped boxes came out of its hiding place. And my sisters and I presented each other and our parents things like a diary with lock and key, an address book, a ball point pen, a mood ring, a pendant, favorite LP, a new pair of oven mittens. . .
I haven't been able to reconcile my memories of that time with the hype and commercialism associated with Christmas. I tried to spare my children that aspect as they integrated values from their parents' backgrounds – yet how could a ten year-old not be influenced when all she saw around her was temptation day after day ?
That winter my daughter and I were heading into rough waters as mother-daughter relationships sometimes do. Regardless, I decided to take a big chance and teach a lesson. I wrapped many little packages in attractive papers and placed them under the tree. I watched her pick up the boxes or cylinders, check for name tags, shake them up to her ear, place them back under the tree – night after night– discussing with her brother what each might be – in anticipation. Finally, on Christmas day after breakfast we gathered around our tree to open presents.
The first one she ripped open was a can of sardines. Ha! Ha! Her brother was holding a box of social tea biscuits – with a question mark on his face. That was a sick joke. Next! A carton of Lipton chicken noodle soup? Why would she get a jar of peanut butter – or wholewheat crackers – even canned salmon, for that matter? He didn't even care for cream of celery soup ! What kind of a joke was this? Where were the real presents they had been asking for?!
Parents have to see eye to eye in these matters – have a strong, united front. Mine always did. I haven't been as lucky with my husband, but I survived the tempest my daughter stirred up. She and her brother did get what they wanted, after I had a talk with them – in their father's presence. I wanted to tell them that the packages they opened and tossed with an attitude were gifts some people would be more than thankful for. There are children who go hungry - and to them a can of soup and a box of crackers with peanut butter would be a treat. I just wanted mine to take a moment and think of how fortunate they were, and appreciate their good fortune. Until then words hadn't meant much, and it is easy to take being blessed for granted. After she calmed down, we all got in the car and took our non perishables to a foodbank. That's how a familiy tradition started.
Those tempestuous years are long behind us, and my daughter has become the biggest environment conscientious preservationist I know now. She is against anything materialistic. Some lessons take a while to sink in, but their ramifications are big.
My new year's eve present offer from her this year is a recycled yogurt container full of worms – to start my indoor composting. She promises I'll have black gold by spring.
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