Christmas: Celebrating the Present


Later this week on Christmas day, my family will be gathered in a sandy beach place that will remain anonymous. This family gathering will be a mixed bag of a little of this, a lot of that and a small helping of "we aren't sure but it could be" ethnicities. We will celebrate in our own style as well. There won't be a turkey or ham, most likely seafood followed by a pumpkin pie.

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As a child growing up in an immigrant home, I experienced what my parents thought Christmas was. It was copied from advertising, store windows, holiday cards and from what they observed from other families in the neighborhood. We had a tree every year, and each Christmas morning we would run downstairs and open our presents. When my mother went back to work, the holidays were spartan and we spent them at relatives. No more tree, no more presents under it. Our gifts were then brought out and handed to us without much fanfare.

After I left home, I tried to make my own Christmas. It was never quite right, I really had no past memory to recreate.

In the last decade, I have traveled to Asia to spend the holidays where my family would do the Christmas dinner and gift exchange, mostly because my younger sister would be the one pushing for it. I was more ambivalent and detached. I was creating future memories, rather than drawing on the past to give the present relevance.

I could say that I am more into the holiday now that I am on my own for the reasons that I love the decorations, the feeling of anticipation, the fact that everyone is excited for the lighting of the tree and gifts. If I was to really give it meaning, it would not be about the gifts or the holiday spirit, it would be about being with my family and just celebrating being lucky enough to spend that day with them. Being present was the best gift I ever received.

Image: Ophelia Chong / Xmas in Hong Kong

Artist, designer and teacher Ophelia Chong explores her adopted city of Los Angeles with an eye and ear for the small moments that tests the duality of being an Asian American. Join her on her journey every Thursday on KCET's SoCal blog

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