My first American Christmas showed me true loneliness

Apoorva Verghese, Senior Staff Columnist

When my parents made the decision to move to America, they anticipated how isolated we would be from everything we knew, our culture, our language, our families. (Jada Roth)

I can still somewhat remember the first American Christmas I spent in Seattle. It snowed, but not in the magical, cinematic way that left your nose red and your fingers lightly coated in ice. It was more a sort of vicious sludge, dead set on slipping you up and leaving your socks wet. However, I don’t think even the most wonderland-like weather could have saved this Christmas, because there is only one way I can describe that first year in Seattle. It was so, miserably lonely. 

When I lived in England, we were lucky enough to live less than an hour away from two of my uncles and their families. Our Christmases were huge affairs, filled with food and presents and love. 

When we moved to America, however, we found ourselves entirely alone. Not only did we have no family near us in Seattle, we didn’t have any friends or even people we were vaguely acquainted with. We found ourselves in a new country with no support system but each other, and we were all struggling. 

Thanks to past immigration laws regarding H-4 visas, my mother was not allowed to continue her work as a doctor. In the span of a few months she went from a young, energetic working mother to a stay-at-home wife with three small children. She was bored and tired, and none of us could do anything to help. 

My older sister and I weren’t having much more fun in school. Not only were we some of the only South Asian kids in the school, we’d also grown up in England our entire lives and spoke in thick Mancunian accents that nobody seemed to understand. We struggled to make friends and connect to people who had nothing in common with us. 

Our first Christmas rolled around, and we were all having hard times adjusting to this new world we threw ourselves into. When my parents made the decision to move to America, they anticipated how isolated we would be from everything we knew, our culture, our language, our families. 

None of us could have predicted just how heavy the isolation would feel. This loneliness was so much more pronounced during a holiday that once was so important and comforting for us. 

Our first American Christmas was everything Christmas shouldn’t be: quiet and solemn. My parents tried their best to make the holiday exciting for my siblings and I, but I replay memories of that year in gray.

Two years later, we moved to Connecticut, and things didn’t seem like they were going to get better. In New Haven, it snowed in thick, white sheets, but I don’t think of my Christmases there fondly. Mostly, I remember being cold. 

About a year after we moved to Connecticut, we moved again, this time to Texas. At some point, I sort of accepted that my holidays would never return to whatever romanticized ideal I’d had in my head, and I was okay with that. I’d accepted that there would always be a part of me that feels isolated and out of place in America. 

Recently, my dad sent me an old picture of me and my little brother around Christmas time. In the picture, my little brother and I are playing in the snow, and I seem to be trying to bury him. I looked genuinely happy and excited, albeit slightly villainous in my attempts to send my brother to an icy grave. It was strange to see. I hadn’t seen a picture of myself from that time in ages and for so long, I associated only negativity with my childhood. 

Remembering some abstract happiness of the past has always been hard for me. Pain, on the other hand, is near impossible to forget. Every Christmas that I remember being miserable or lonely have been peppered with moments of pure joy — I just don’t always remember them. Each fleeting moment of unadulterated childhood happiness passed by me before I even recognized its importance, while those moments of loneliness left deep lasting scars. It doesn’t have to be that way. 

Yes, I think I will never get over the disconnect I feel between myself and this country, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make the effort to embrace the joy around me. I don’t want to sound too cliché, but if you ask me, Christmas truly is about finding happiness in the in-betweens. 

I started to find my Christmas joy in the little things, like when my mom texts me asking what ingredients I need to make sugar cookies or my sister “casually” asks if I have any books I’ve been wanting to read. I can’t really ask for more. It’s Christmas, and I’m happy and that is so much more than enough.