A Wandering Jew on Christmas


christmas in hanoi

From far away lands, I ponder the meanings of goodwill and acceptance. Arriving here among strangers, Hannah and I sought shelter, first in hotels, and then in a place more permanent, certainly more permanent than the Hyundai we’ve called home for most of 2014. We found some wonderful flatmates, Germans, and we celebrated Christmas Eve in a newly opened bar of a French ex-pat out in the Tay Ho district.

The gathering of friends was incredibly mixed. Almost equal parts French, German, Vietnamese and American. Maybe 3-5 of each. The food, equally mixed: cheese, bread, smoked salmon and steamed fish, squash soup, wurst, wine, $1 packs of cigarettes, risotto.. In the frantic preparation, each of us felt the stress of the holidays, the quest for perfection.. Would there be enough food?

Partway through the meal, it became clear our abundance. There was more than enough. More than enough love and jokes, laughing about sin of gluttony and an attempt to translate each of the 7 Deadly Sins into each language.

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As an outsider, I have always viewed Christmas in a similar vein to Passover. That is, it is an opportunity to open your home, to share in abundance, to build community from strangers. What resonates with me is the importance of GIVING, that what makes people truly happy is not the accumulation of wealth, but the ability to take care of others AND to be nurtured yourself.

In Judaism, we know well the stories of Abraham and Sarah. Their home was a tent, open on all sides. How can one hide or horde in such a situation? As a Nomad myself, the quintessential Wandering Jew, living out of a 25-liter backpack and a camera bag, I can appreciate that idea of living simply, and putting it all out there. My possessions are simply part of what I take from here to there. I try to leave no trace, except for when I find myself with too much. I had too many jackets at one point this summer. One went to a homeless guy in Seattle, a few others went to Goodwill. I need no more than the jacket on my back.

What do we hope for in our New Year’s Resolutions? Many of us wish to SLIM DOWN: to lose weight, to clean out the garage, to be more efficient. So why celebrate excess? Why root for more stuff, bigger houses, more cumbersome business proposals and complicated plans?

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.

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