It's not supposed to feel like this until February! I grumbled into the sauna-like air. The whole point of a sauna is how good you feel when you come out of it. But Dar es Salaam is like one of those nasty villains in a Marvel movie who throws you in and locks the door. Now, go bake some Christmas cookies in there! she shrieks in that high-pitched monster cackle. And see if that doesn't turn you into the Grinch!
Christmas is all about nostalgia, isn't it? Fueled by Hallmark movies and Thomas Kinkade paintings and everyone's perfect Instagram pictures. Crackling fires and children in sleeper pajamas and sparkling lights. You can say all you want that Christmas is about the Incarnation or the spirit of giving or blah blah blah, but actually, it doesn't "feel" like Christmas unless you get the nostalgia part right. Which is why Christmas is usually the hardest time of the year for Americans living overseas.
But then this funny thing happens once enough time goes by. You do the same thing enough times, even if you hate it, and one day you find your own form of nostalgia. The plastic tree held together by zip ties, the bizarre shopping excursions that include haggling over used shoes in an open-air market, the cans of Root Beer that appear in Christmas stockings. Suddenly you can't imagine Christmas without those things.
At our mission Christmas party this year, the theme of the gift exchange was food items that we usually wouldn't buy because they are too expensive here. So we cheered and laughed and fought over packages filled with tortilla chips and nacho cheese, s'mores ingredients, and--the most popular--a homemade cheesecake. Our family walked away with the package of bacon, and it was awesome.
We made gingerbread houses and took our worker's family to the water park; we made seven kinds of cookies that had to be kept in the freezer so they wouldn't melt. We went to the movie theater and saw "The Grinch," but my favorite part of the movie was the air conditioning. We had crepes and strawberries on Christmas morning, because strawberries are hard to come by. Gil gave me an orange-chocolate bar for Christmas, and I gave him a bag of Hershey's caramel kisses that were on sale (since normally they would have been twelve dollars). But our main gift to each other was running the air conditioner in the living room for the week before Christmas, because air conditioning is the Superhero against that heat villain.
It's never going to look like a Hallmark Christmas movie, but it's nostalgic just the same.