Immigrants to this country find themselves torn between their traditional Christmas celebrations and the American traditions being learned by their children from school friends. This is one story of how that clash was resolved.
As an Ethiopian, I have been observing two Christmases a year. One is the American Christmas that I have been observing passively, and the other is Genna (pronounced GENna), the Ethiopian Christmas, which I have been celebrating on Jan. 7.
But of all the 12 Christmases of my six years of stay here, none will be as memorable as this Christmas. I will be actively celebrating an American Christmas for the first time, thanks to my girlfriend's 11-year-old son.
Although born in Ethiopia, the boy is very much into Christmas American style. He has lived here for most of his years, and like most Ethiopian children in the area, he goes to school with Americans.
He knows that he is not an American and that there are children of many races speaking different languages and adhering to different religions in his school.
But Brook knows of no other Christmas. He likes the Christmas that his friends in school and neighborhood know and talk about. For him, and perhaps to most Ethiopian children who are either brought up or born here, Christmas has become as important as Genna is to their parents. I suppose the importance has more to do with what Christmas offers than with what it is.
Genna, a simple celebration marked by the gathering of family members and close friends to commemorate the birth of Yessus Kirstos, is the most important and the most popular holiday to members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Its approach and passage are heralded by neighborhood boys playing a hockey-like game, also known as Genna, about two weeks before and after Jan. 7.
Early on that day, Ethiopian Christians attend Christmas mass, after which they return home to share a large circular loaf of bread that has been baked the day before.
Youngsters such as Brook cover the marble or wooden or earthen floors of their houses with long, dark green grasses that they have cut from the fields or purchased from enterprising shepherds.
But the traditional Genna offers no exchange of presents or cards and permits no tree in the house. I had a dispute with Brook's mother when she suggested getting a tree this year. She came down hard on me in favor of having it, mainly because Christmas would mean nothing to Brook without a Christmas tree.
I defended the need to keep the Genna celebration on Jan. 7. I believed I was betraying Genna for the convenience and likings of Brook. I began telling her how some of our Ethiopian friends in the area first began celebrating Christmas for the sake of their children and later ended up forgetting Genna.
They did not forget Genna, she said. It is just hard to deny a child a popular holiday such as Christmas. Ethiopian children must talk about their Christmas trees and must show their friends in school what they got for Christmas just like other children. It is hard to carry on some traditions here, she said.
I finally gave in. This year I am joining Brook and his mother to celebrate Christmas with a tree, gifts and toys, very much like American families. Except we have no Santa Claus stories to tell.
Jan. 7 will go unmarked. It will be forgotten until we return home.