Ten ways I embraced the holiday season (mostly in pictures)

Usually I don’t do much over the holidays. I’m not all “Bah, Humbug,” but then again I tend to feel sort of “Meh” when the jolly season comes around. This year, however, I went out of my way to savor the time since last year I pretty much missed the whole thing being in Oman (though we did celebrate a little). This is how I got into it:

  1. I got a tree. After several years of not doing so, I bought a tree. Nothing beats the smell of a fresh tree. It makes me so happy. As soon as it gets dark here, I turn on the lights and eat my dinner to the ambiance.

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    My view from the couch as I watch TV

  2. Saw lights. My friend has a house on Peacock Lane, Portand’s street of holiday cheer. I also saw the big tree downtown. Pretty. It’s hard to hold back holiday cheer when seeing so much festivity.
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    The Portland tree. The local statue is dressed for the weather.

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    Crazy lights on Peacock Lane.

  3. Spent time with friends and family. I love how the holidays is one huge focus on getting together with people who matter. I’m lucky enough that this is a relaxing time and feeling.
  4. Saw movies. I saw The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D, and the Hateful Eight in 70mm. There was a long dry spell in my life where I really didn’t see many movies in the theaters (or at all, really). This is slowly changing, thanks to being overseas where seeing an American film felt like a special treat. I like going to the movies again. Yeah, the snacks are still too spendy, but I have found that belief that the ticket price is worth the fun and escapism I see on a huge screen.
  5. Experienced holiday entertainment. I went to a former student’s Christmas cabaret. I heard carolers at the hospital where I work. Played Christmas carols in my house and in the car. These musical events left me laughing, touched, and nostalgic. Magical.

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    These young carolers helped the mood at the hospital.

  6. Gave to charity. In lieu of presents, my parents and I give to charities. This year I donated enough to Heifer International to send a young woman to school for a year. I also donated to help support Syrian refugees. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this.
  7. Drank silly holiday beverages. I drank the controversial Starbucks pumpkin latte (I liked it better with the real pumpkin, but maybe that’s just me) in a controversial Starbucks holiday cup. It was delicious. I also tried some weird chestnut latte thing. I wasn’t as excited.
  8. Made cookies and traditional foods. Friends came over and we baked sugar cookies and decorated them as if we were five. We made our own colored sugar and used it liberally, mixing all the colors together. I also made Latvian piragi like grandma used to make; I made them over Thanksgiving weekend and again for a Winter Solstice party. Yum.
  9. What are the holidays without leaving the house, at least for a little bit? Despite leaving on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I still encountered airport woes, as my plane was a full two hours late. Thankfully, my friends had come to the airport with me to do some last-minute shopping and so to the bar we went! It was decorated in a strangely, confused festive way.  In the end, I made it to Sacramento to spend Christmas with Dave’s family. Saw movies and the sun! I need to see the sun more often.
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    Strange bar decor.

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    Sun and palm trees in Sacramento. Hooray!

  10. Went to lots of parties. How did this happen? My social calendar was full of house gatherings complete with silly gift exchanges, laughter, yummy food and drink, and connection. I have a ton of outgoing friends who are warm enough to open their doors to others. So much fun – thanks to all of you for hosting and thinking of me when creating your guest lists.
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Celebration and missed naps

“Camels!” Dave exclaimed as he looked outside our window. We were just about to take a nap when he looked out our window and saw a parade across the street – a celebration to honor the return of Sultan Qaboos from Germany, his good health, and Oman in general. We were tired, but went up to the roof anyway to see the parade that marked this monumental occasion.

It had been a really long day and we were looking forward to resting. Earlier, in the heat of the sun, we helped our friend at his garage sale. Although he had few customers (garage sales are basically unheard of in this part of the world and therefore not well attended), he managed to get rid of several of his possessions (some thanks to us) as he gets ready to leave Oman. Although he has made this place his home for almost a decade, his goal is to leave with no more than the allocated free 23kgs of baggage as he heads to France to enjoy retirement.

But heat or no heat, sale or no sale, this was history – history we could see from our rooftop. People, camels, and cars all lined up to enter a walled dirt field behind the mayor’s office, less than a kilometer away. Drums played, people shouted, horns honked. Here was the celebration we were looking for that seemed to be lacking earlier in the week. This occasion was too momentous to pass quietly; the country was simply waiting until Friday to really live it up.

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View of the action from the rooftop

 

Soon, the rooftop didn’t feel like enough; my choice was a siesta before our evening plans or to drag my body to the action. The choice was tougher than it sounds, but a friend and I mustered up the energy and made our way down to experience the celebration first-hand.

It was amazing – and luckily slow moving. We could easily walk back and forth to see the different parts of the parade. People honked and waved as us foreigners, seemingly delighted we came by to check out the action. At first I wasn’t sure if a non-Omani would be welcome, but that concern was quickly abated after hearing several shout “As-salam alaykom” (peace be upon you, their “hello”) out car windows. People asking us to take their photos. Fellow-onlookers shaking our hands and chatting. Even though I can’t really get past “kaif halik” (how are you?) I still felt bonded to people in that moment. We were all here to honor the same man, the one who modernized Oman.IMG_3259 IMG_3258

Decorated cars had to remain outside as we entered the gates and moved toward a stage – the camels were allowed inside, even though I am not sure they wanted to participate. Several of the animals resisted entrance into a place where over a thousand gathered to listen to speeches celebrating the Sultan’s safe and healthy return to Oman. It was clear these beasts are more comfortable in the wide open spaces of the desert than in relatively close confines. Nevertheless, they made the event feel that much more special.

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Cranky camels join the festivities

The excitement, pride, and joy were contagious. Everyone, especially the children, were draped in national pride. Scarves, pins, posters, flags all in green, red, and white. People adorned in traditional dress. Oman exhibited in every way possible. A man handed me a flag which I waved, happy to be a part of the celebration. My smile was sincere and vast.

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Heading toward the stage, flags waving

I remain astonished regarding the national pride in this country. This would never happen in the US or in any other place I have visited. Love and appreciation for the Sultan is widespread; this sort of reverence is only granted to celebrities and athletes where I come from. I’m not necessarily endorsing politician worship for our culture, but this difference in whom we place our admiration does make me think.

For now, I will let some pictures tell the rest of the story.

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This man really wanted to have his picture taken. He is dressed traditionally, complete with kanjar (knife) and walking stick.

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The Sultan has returned!

On March 23rd, Sultan Qaboos returned from Germany, having spent the last eight and a half months (258 days, to be exact) receiving “successful treatment” for an undisclosed illness.  To celebrate his arrival in Oman that night,  people went out to their cars to drive around, honking horns, waving flags, and sitting on the window ledges pumping their fists.

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Raise the roof! His Majesty has returned.

The next day, my students said they watched the news video of him getting off the plane over and over again, He descended the steep, red-carpeted steps under his own power, not even using the railing for support. There was dancing and celebrating in their homes and on the streets. One of my students cried when she told me how happy she was.

Overall, though, celebrations were mild. The Sultan is home, but no public holiday has been declared. The school honored the event with a prayer. Then, things just seemed to go back to normal.

 

National Day and Omani Pride

Tomorrow is National Day, which is deemed as such because it’s the Sultan’s birthday. So even though November 18th is the official big day of the year, last week was a larger cause for celebration. Sultan Qaboos, who has been ill for some time now and is seeking treatment in Germany, made his first public appearance in five months. It was broadcast on television and pretty much made this whole country erupt in happiness and relief. There were honking horns, camels parading in town over the weekend, and decorations everywhere.

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The campus was decorated in Oman’s colors to honor the Sultan’s health.

 

 

At school, there was a celebration that resulted in cancelled classes and a welcome disruption of the day.

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Students gather to listen to speeches. Note the gender segregation of the crowd.

 

As an assignment, I had students write about the day’s events on campus and what they meant to them. I will let one group of students share what this all means to Oman — their passion tells the real story. All errors are “sic,” though I did edit to make it more readable:

On Wednesday when my Sir Sultan Qaboos spoke on TV, all Omani people in this moment feel very happy because they didn’t see him for a long time – roughly 4 months out of Oman. When my Sir speak to the Omani people, they went out  and some people cry when see Qaboos on TV and he is fine. In different regions of Oman, make festival for my Sir Qaboos. Also, my college make a beautiful festival and beautiful party. First, students do dirge (national ode). After that, the Dean speak about what do the Qaboos in Oman and the development in Oman. He speaks about the event (Qaboos fine). He is very happy. Next, some students speak and do some skill term on Qaboos. Then the Dean and some teachers go and see some activity. Finally, they go to party and eat some sweets. This is the beautiful day because I see my Sir on TV. He speak fluently. I hope my Sir returns to Oman quickly because all Omani people miss you and need him and Oman also need him. I hope my Sir be fine in every time and every year. I hope be in Oman every time. When Sir returns Omani people will do big festival in different region in Oman. Same in this time but a lot more. I hope be in quickly time.

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More campus decor.