No matter where I spent my year-end Holidays, each place brought a new perspective and renewed my hope
I have lived in many countries on many continents, and I’m often asked, which country did you prefer? It’s such a hard question to answer. Each of them brought me joy, tears, friendship, appreciation, personal growth, and contributed to who I am today.
Over time, I learned to call “home” wherever my home and my family are, wherever that is on the planet. I learned to detach “home” from any particular geographic location, and instead focused on having a true appreciation of wherever I was at that moment, and how that specific geography, with its people customs, would create an experience of its own.
The end of the year is always a special time, and I always want to be “home”. Regardless of how celebrations may differ from place to place, my year end requires a place where I can feel safe, loved and cared for, so I can have the courage to look back at what happened in the year, and forward to what comes next.
The year end is a vulnerable moment for me, maybe because I might not have achieved all that I wanted to, or because I won’t be with my family this year, or simply because I might be hesitant about what to do next. In this way, the holidays always mix a level of discomfort about the past with optimism for the future.
As this strange, challenging, pandemic-stricken year of 2020 finally comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on a very American idea: diversity and tolerance, through the lens of the many different annual conclusions I’ve experienced around the world.
In Senegal, the West African country where I lived until age 12, teranga — the Wolof word for hospitality — is not just the country’s motto. It’s also a core value for Senegalese people, making the country a place where tolerance is a way of living. I was lucky to experience teranga first-hand.
Even though the vast majority of people in Senegal are not Christian, celebrating Christmas or Easter was a very natural thing for many to do, embracing traditions that weren’t theirs originally. I remember family-oriented, quiet year-end holidays in Senegal, enjoying the freshness of the alizé winds, breaking away from the hot and humid summer monsoon. We had a very rudimentary beach cottage in those years, and I had no bigger pleasure than to walk for hours on the beach, alone, in search of special seashells, before taking a swim in the Atlantic. My best Christmas gift ever was going to our beach cottage! The whole country slowed down to celebrate a holiday that wasn’t necessarily present in its people’s faith.
As I continued traveling the world following my parents’ professional careers, I experienced unbelievably joyful and noisy year ends in Beirut, Lebanon. Even though the country was in the midst of a civil war throughout the 1980s, the Lebanese people decided to celebrate no matter what: the whole month of December was a continuum of invitations, dinners, parties, fireworks, honking, and traffic jams. The sheer joy of celebration brought light into a pretty dark reality. These Lebanese celebrations testified to the tenacity of the force of life — and having experienced them I understood forever that even if I have many reasons to despair, it’s important to dig deeper to find some reason to rejoice, even if only temporarily.
In another year, a very different end of the year helped me tremendously. In 2001, I was beset by a period of self-doubt, and I could not imagine having a “normal” Christmas celebration. So, I opted to spend a week in Essaouira, Morocco, to enjoy the beach and a milder weather than in Paris where I was living. I deliberately chose a place where I would not be exposed to the kind of over-the-top year-end feeling that’s often inescapable in a Western country. That time in Morocco was one of my preferred holiday periods. I meandered for hours in the streets of the medina, unburdened by the stress of Christmas, gifts, family duties, or any personal performance. The acceptance of my difference, and the hospitality I experienced during that week, made a huge difference to me and allowed me to return to Paris very serene, centered and ready for another year that proved to be full of life-changing events.
I also remember the quiet Christmas, followed by the very noisy Sylvester — full of fireworks — in the mountains of Switzerland. Also, very fiery and celebratory street dancing in Hong Kong. Or more recently, the absolute delights of the holidays in New York, with family and friends visiting, running around the city to enjoy the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker, or the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, a Santa-Klez klezmer cabaret concert, or just the sheer pleasure of smelling the Christmas trees on sale in the chilly streets right up until sunset on Christmas Eve.
After all these years and the many different places where I spent the end of the year, I have appreciated the diversity and renewed perspective that each place brought into this period. I experienced firsthand diversity, acceptance, nuance, and respect. Each place offered a different perspective, and each contributed in its own way to my personal growth, allowing me to experience my own vulnerability, questioning and renewed optimism – that tomorrow will be better.
If you would like to share your own year-end story, and unpack what it means to you, please contact me. I would love to support you in gaining perspective while celebrating the diversity of your life!
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