I’ll be quite honest with you: I’m trying to hammer out this column at the pace I once only reserved for SAT essays and angry-turned-angsty Facebook messages. It’s Thanksgiving weekend, and my family is waiting on me to help put up the Christmas tree. My five-year-old cousin is periodically running into the room in which I’m writing just to ask me if it’s 8:00 p.m. yet, because he really wants to put up the decorations. I can’t let down the world’s most adorable five-year-old, can I?
I’m Muslim and I’m a damn nut for Christmas. Maybe it’s because I’m a victim of the commercialization of the holidays or some deep-rooted desire to assimilate into American culture, or maybe I just watched a lot of ABC Family (What the hell is Freeform?) whenever I was home alone over winter break. Who cares; I started my annual holiday playlist before Halloween, and I’m listening to it as I write this.
The holidays in Virginia are non-stop Christmas music on 97.1 WASH FM and LED snowflakes on every lamppost in every suburban shopping center. Christmas used to be preparing some holiday song for the annual Christmas piano recital (my magnum opus was a delightful performance of “Winter Wonderland” circa 2009), or sitting in Beltway traffic waiting for your fingers or tush or whatever to finally warm up in the just-nippy-enough mid-atlantic winter.
Simultaneously, the holidays are acutely Iranian, peppered with pomegranates galore, with chai consumption at an annual high and a sharp increase in the number of mehmoonies (parties) we pack into our minivan to attend. Iranians celebrate Shabe Yalda on the winter solstice, when we stay up all night with our loved ones to avoid the evils that could befall us on the longest night of the year. Traditionally, you sit around a korsi (a table with a heater nested underneath it) and eat pomegranates and fruits and nuts and tell tales and jokes and predict our futures through verses from Hafiz poems until we get dizzy with sleeplessness. The point is to surround yourself with love and joy to protect yourself and each other.
Culture tends to surprise us most when we observe its evolutionary convergence: as the korsi has gone out of fashion, I’m instead enveloped by Ella Fitzgerald bellowing “I’ve got my love to keep me warm.” On Yalda, we’re assured that Judy Garland’s “faithful friends who are dear to us/gather near to us once more.” Yalda and Christmas differ in their rituals and likely even more so in the populaces of their adherents, but they serve to reinforce the same values: togetherness, warmth, generosity. They exist as separate bodies in the same climate, generating warmth where it doesn’t exist through the sheer kindling of good spirit.
Okay, that was cheesy! But let’s be real: winter at Cornell is synonymous with seasonal gloom and the Ithaca sun’s annual hibernation until, like, April. The holidays are even tougher when you’ve lost family members or aren’t accepted by the ones you have. On top of it all, the obligatory retrospection of December forces us to remember again and again the tragedies of the past year and to face that they’re not ending anytime soon. Winter is hard and it’s cold and it’s bitter, and most of the time we’re just advised to wait for it to pass. But there’s something about the chill of the season that makes human beings across the world want to heat each other up with empathy, to embody the coziness of hygge, to find time to spend with people they love.
Again, it’s cheesy, I know (and there’s nothing like cheesiness to immediately make our irony-loving generation uninterested), but when we feel divided, hurt and confused, maybe we can find temporary solace in the warmth of others amidst a brutal winter.
Pegah Moradi is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Jokes Aside appears alternate Mondays this semester.