We are experiencing Christmas season as defined by Tucsonians. The usual signs of an urban Christmas are here, such as crowded parking lots, and Santa Claus appearing every retail outlet for miles. Those are all background to my eye. It’s the little things that are different about how it’s done here which strike me.
A couple of nights ago we wandered over to the La Encantada Mall to see “snow.” This upscale mall features little patches of fake grass in the courtyard. Since grass is scarce around here — even the plastic variety — that’s a minor novelty in itself, but it gets better. Every Friday and Saturday evening at 6:00 and 6:45 p.m. they turn on a machine that blows fake snow out into the courtyard. The stuff is actually some sort of soap bubbles, and children quickly learn not to try to catch it on their tongues. The event reaps dozens of children and adults romping around in the bubblebath, shrieking with pleasure and gathering up tiny bits of the stuff to toss at each other.
Only in Tucson have I ever seen people playing in fake snow while standing on fake grass. It impressed Emma, although she is certainly no stranger to snow, but I quickly lost interest. I had just seen the real thing up in Louisville earlier this week, and that was plenty for me. Fortunately, this event happens directly in front of an Apple store (computers) and that meant I had more intriguing gadgets to examine than a “snow”-making machine. Maybe Santa will bring me a new MacBook Pro this Christmas…
People ask if we have Christmas trees here. Yes, we do. Sure, cactus are commonly decorated with lights outside, but inside the house people seem to prefer the traditional evergreen tree. Since evergreens are scarce here, they are imported from wetter places like Oregon, and driven down by the truckload. Vendors are selling them all over town. After Christmas, the city collects them and “treecycles” them. Or, you can get a fake tree.
All this fakery — or perhaps I should say, “symbolism” — made me wonder whether there were any “real” components of the Christmas season available. I can’t expect snow, but at least I can expect holiday cookies, a fire in the fireplace, and some traditional singing. Fortunately, those elements are alive and well. Downtown at St Augustine Cathedral, we heard five choirs singing “A Holiday Card To Tucson” this afternoon.
Sure, there were palm trees outside the cathedral, and the temperature was a balmy mid-60s, but at least the music was well-done and entirely authentic. So yes Virginia, the spirit of Christmas really does exist in Tucson. It’s just a little different, like the Southwest Nutcracker that is performed with ballet dancers dressed as coyotes and Native American squaws.
I’ll have to keep searching Tucson for the extremes of Christmas over the next few weeks, whether real or symbolic. It’s part of the process of getting comfortable with spending this time of year in the desert. We won’t always be here, but when we are we need to feel like we are home. I expect a strange but compelling mix of butterflies and sleigh bells, dust storms instead of snow storms, grapefruit instead of sugarplums. It’s something new, and that alone seems reason enough to explore and embrace it.