December used to be the month of wishing for snow, of watching the chickadees and cardinals at the feeder, of cracking ice with the heels of our boots when feeding the sheep and goats down at the barn, of hoping and praying the pond would freeze thick enough that we could skate on its glassy surface. December was nailbitingly slow, a month of sneaking around and shaking presents, doing rubbings on the surface of wrapped books to ascertain the titles, wondering if Mom had switched name tags on the gifts in the hope of foiling our not-too-secret attempts to discover our loot before the 25th. December was a collection of blue-eyed baby Jesuses, sanitized in their unscratchy mangers, which we knew to be a modern fable, having plenty of scratches on our own arms from the hay we threw to the animals in their mangers. December was an end, a preparation for the new year, a party waiting to happen.
But that was in the Northern Hemisphere.
Here, December is blazing heat, blue skies, a beach full of red umbrellas. December is incongruous neon light strings and fake icicles hanging over store displays of bikinis and Christmas hams. (Not together, usually.) At a mall in Copacabana yesterday, my husband noted that it looked like an Egyptian market and the worst of Abu Dhabi, full of antiques stands, gaudy dollar-store Christmas decorations, effusive Victorian Nativity sets, musty oriental rugs, and the unmistakable scent of the back corner of a grandparent's basement mixed with air-conditioning set to maximum. It's summer. People are leaving for vacation. I have a hard time feeling nostalgic, Christmas-y, excited. Churches don't do the lead-up that I was accustomed to, with the Advent candles and sermons focused on the Nativity. There are a few carol sings around town, a performance of Handel's "Messiah" open to anyone with a score, and other such cultural markers I'm familiar with, but on the whole, December here seems strongly commercial and lacking in substance. Everything is leading up to Christmas, and yet nothing feels like Christmas to this Midwesterner.
We need our own December traditions for this climate. Beyond popsicles, five showers a day and icing our home down with the blessed air conditioner, what should we do to bring a little holiday into this month where we are melting, melting, melting?