In Saint Paul, our sisters and brothers invest sweat and tears in freedoms, artistic and otherwise. Sometimes we offer a welcome hat, and other times we try our best to offer refuge against the protestations of neighbors who have forgotten how and why their great grandparents came here.
It hadn’t occurred to me until someone at work brought it to my attention that this winter has been going on for eleven years. I said, “That can’t be. Surely not.” But then I got thinking about it. It was eleven years ago November we moved into this house. You remember, snow was just beginning and we had so much trouble getting the refrigerator down the driveway and through the door.
Newly ordained, I stand in front of a brightly decorated Christmas tree. Next to me is Nhia (Jonah) Xou Yang, former CIA collaborator turned minister. We are in the shared sanctuary of our respective Hmong and American congregations in a church on Saint Paul’s North End. It is Advent 1982. Soon the peacefulness is shattered. A rock band composed of Hmong teenagers arrives, rehearsing as they do each weekday afternoon. The noise drives us from our contemplation...
In 1973 we invited the women we knew in the neighborhood—most of them, like us, mothers of preschoolers. We knew the mothers of the teenagers who babysat for us, so we invited them too. And we invited our elderly neighbors who indulged our children riding Big Wheels over their lawns. We scheduled the party the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when, we reasoned, mothers needed a break from their children. Our written invitations flatly stated, “MOMS ONLY.”
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, something magical happens at Como Lake. Just off the side of the walking path stands a huge pine tree, and one by one, Christmas tree ornaments begin to appear on the branches. These are not the expensive, trendy decorations that you see for sale in matched, color-coordinated sets. No, some of these are the ragtag older ones used for years at grandma’s house.
Christmas is one of my favorite holidays—there are a lot of differences between Christmas in America and in my country, Sierra Leone. In America, all they do is exchange gifts and go to work, but in Sierra Leone people will start celebrating a week before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, people will do lots of grocery shopping and buy lots of meats and chicken because they like to cook fresh food in the morning. On the day of Christmas, all you can smell is the good smell of different aromas—yum, yum.