As an ex-pat, I am used to missing some things about America. But I have to say, I prefer not to be there right now, as we are not hit over the head everyday in France with the bailout, grim statistics, TVs on and financial news blaring at us. The holiday season here has always been less commercial than in the U.S. as well, and much more focused on the foie gras and family meals... and my parents are visiting so my daughter and I feel lucky to have them here.
We don't spend days wondering about how to buy presents, but whether or not to make more gingerbread cookies, or how many people are coming over to drink hot spiced wine and decorate the tree. We want to attend a Christmas Eve service in Notre Dame, go ice skating at the free rinks around Paris (I gave my daughter and myself ice skates), see the city lit up by a million lights, visit friends, bundle up and walk through the parks, enjoying the winter.
Then I realized these are the same kinds of things I like to do in New York or Seattle or even Houston (though in Houston no one walks anywhere). I have always hated shopping malls, tend to lose my car in those enormous lots, cannot stand traffic, prefer to walk, and like to be outside and active. When I lived in Seattle I spent my time outdoors, at the beach, in the woods, fishing in a river 45 minutes from the city center or cross country skiing (for free!) on some old wooden Telemark skis I had bought secondhand for ten bucks. Friends came together for holiday parties which did not have to be catered and cost an arm and a leg. We were happy!
In New York, there is nothing better than walking through Central Park in the snow, or playing with a sled and children in the park off Riverside Drive. Many museums are free... and you can splurge on a hot chocolate or ice skating at Rockefeller Center... be creative, spend more time with your spouse, your children, enjoy the human side of the holidays!
Turn the TV off during the next few weeks, don't check your email, lose the Blackberry... does it really matter if yet another bank goes under? Take a few days off and have some real vacation time. Our grandparents made it through the depression, some of them through World War II, my dad grew up with all four grandparents in rural Louisiana living under the same roof! They managed just fine! In fact, I would say my father has some pretty amazing memories of his childhood. And none of them had to do with shopping or entertainment centers!
As his mother used to say, "People in many rural areas did not even know there was a depression... they had been so poor, nothing had changed, they just kept going." I will think of her as I bake an apple rhubarb pie, a spinach quiche, and dig out the boxes of Christmas ornaments for the children coming over for cookies and decorating later today... but right now I have to head out to the Marche d'Aligre (the best and cheapest market in town) with a group of ex-pat friends and our children to drink a glass of wine. And eat some oysters on the street off of big wooden wine barrels. I hope they don't talk about the economy!