By Zachary Everett
Last week, during a brief encounter with Salmonella, I came downstairs to divulge myself in the arroz con pollo that I’ve grown so accustomed to while being ill. Upon reaching the bottom floor, I saw a white glow coming from the corner of our living room. I looked down and saw that my host sister, Mary, had fully assembled our artificial Christmas tree and draped it with flashing lights that should have come with a seizure warning. Mary was proud of what she had done. For the past two weeks, she had been waking up at the crack of dawn and going to bed at 2:00 AM to finish her thesis for her Master’s Degree. Assembling the tree was merely a distraction for her to step away from what I’ve been referring to as La Tesis de Horor.
A few nights after that, Mary came pounding on my door demanding that it was time to string lights on our banister. I followed Mary downstairs; she immediately sat in a mountain of Christmas lights and tacky garland. My 35yearold host sister was legitimately the biggest fiend for Christmas.
She assigned me to taping a semihazardous looking extension chord to the wall so that we could plugin the lights running up the banister. I reached into my pocket; how could I possibly be decorating for Christmas without playing a tacky Spotify Christmas playlist. I hit play and by some miracle, All I want for Christmas is you came onto shuffle. Instinctually, it was my duty to perform the musical genius that was this masterpiece. The room went silent, the lights felt like they dimmed, and the spotlight was on me. At the end of exactly four minutes and one second, in a tremendous act of selfexpression, I had completely killed the performance— I also had certainly reinforced a number of negative stereotypes surrounding Americans.
But I felt like I was back home. Despite my Jewish heritage, I bought the equivalent of a Christmas shrub last year with my friends. I had been living primarily alone and had thought that the tree would be the perfect companion to my sometimes lonely apartment. After a vigorous game of Monopoly, we decorated the tree and later named him Abe, an extremely Jewish name— a pretty hilarious slap in the face to my own Jewish heritage.
At home, I spend Christmas with my dad in his house in Maine. His house lacks many things that I’ve become accustomed to: hot water, electricity, internet access. My first Christmas staying there, I asked my dad about having a Christmas tree. He left the house, and within an hour, he came back with the most hideous tree I had ever seen. It was smaller than I was, only had only a few stray branches sticking out, and was made up of dying needles falling off of it: a true Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
Anyway, I had almost exhausted my entire Christmas playlist but looked up to see the banister glowing with Mary’s lights. She had beautifully wrapped them around the different plants and decorations that we keep in the corner of the room. The house felt different— a Christmas tree, Christmas music, tacky decorations— I felt like I was home… and I was.
I was exhausted. I looked down to see my phone glowing— 1:30 AM. Drained, Mary and I went to sit on the couch to marvel over the work that we had done. After making a few jokes about my host brother, Paúl, coming back late to find us sitting there, just staring at a wall, we both went silent.
Silence doesn’t require language, it’s about sharing a space and a feeling with someone else. We started at the lights, flashing and glowing and illuminating our living room. I thought back to how I’d spent Christmas in the past and that this would be the first time in 18 years that I was spending the holiday without both of my brothers. I thought though of Mary and how much she means to me; despite only spending three short months with her, I couldn’t imagine being back in New York without her. I thought about having slap boxing matches with her in the middle of the mall. Or keeping her updated on the latest program gossip. Of how she laughs when I talk about the terrors of teaching fouryearolds. How she’s patient with me despite my troubles speaking her language. I thought of the crazy idea that this woman takes time out of her life to go off and hang out with me— the foreigner— when she could be doing literally anything else. I thought about how grateful I am that she was in my life.
I stated at the tree and thought about how much I love Christmas, and how being in Ecuador doesn’t change that at all; after all, Mariah Carey is not just specific to the United States. As Mary put it, I might not be with my two brothers at home, but I’m gonna be with my four new siblings that I have here.