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Pointer: Traveling the world through others

Guest writer Starla Pointer spent a winter term in England 40 years ago as part of Linfield’s study abroad program. She said it was a wonderful way to learn about the world, as well as a particular academic subject in greater depth. Over the years since, she’s been traveling virtually by watching YouTube videos about
walks, bus rides or train trips, and by writing News-Register stories on the customs of transplants from afar.

We arrived in Oxford, England, on the evening of Jan. 2, 1982, having flown out of Seattle at midnight on New Year’s Day. We had jumped ahead in time somewhere over Greenland and gone through customs at Heathrow Airport in a daze before boarding a bus.

My fellow Linfield students and I awakened the next morning in the “City of Dreaming Spires,” a nickname appropriate to a place filled with the churches and towers of Oxford University’s 45 colleges.

Since we stayed with families in a middle-class housing development during our five-week Jan Term course, we experienced everyday life in England in addition to getting a chance to visit the famous Bodleian Library; the haunts of Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh and C.S. Lewis; and nearby Blenheim Palace.

It was normal; it was exotic; it was a dream come true; it was a Monty Python sketch. We were the slowest people walking the streets, the loudest talkers, the slightly ugly — but still wide-eyed and eager — Americans.

We learned about our own country’s youth and inexperience as we visited pubs where pints had been poured for centuries. The World War II history we’d only read about hit home when we stood in the bombed out shell of Coventry Cathedral, its crumbling walls preserved as a memorial to those who died.

We also noted the similarities between other parts of the world and our own: When half a meter of snow fell on our first Friday, we realized Oxford was about as prepared for winter as McMinnville.

Determined to get to class that day, I boarded the first bus that showed up after a long, long wait. My roommates slid back to our lodgings.

A lone stranger in a strange, snow-covered land, I rode all over Oxfordshire for hours, finally disembarking at the intersection of High and Broad streets — the first place that looked vaguely familiar. On one corner, steam rose from chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

That was only one of many adventures I had in England as our class studied the legends of King Arthur with Professor Katherine Kernberg. We visited places where Arthur and his knights were said to have pursued their quests, as well as Stonehenge, Winchester Cathedral, Bath and Buckingham Palace.

During our final week in London, I managed a side visit by train to Watford to see where Elton John’s football team played and toured several art museums. Thank goodness I took that required art survey course at Linfield.

I regret never returning since to Oxford, to England, or to any place in any other country except Canada. But it strengthened my desire to learn about other places and other people around the world.

I’ve been fortunate to do so by interviewing Yamhill County residents who’ve emigrated from dozens of other places. I’ve even stretched my definition of “other” to include Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico, which are part of the U.S., but unique in their own right, especially when it comes to celebrating the holidays.

For my annual December series, I ask people born elsewhere two main questions: First, how did you celebrate Christmas, or, if not that holiday, New Year’s or other special events of your country? And second, how do you celebrate these days?

As we talk about the holidays — the music, the decorations, the food, the meaning — they share their stories about growing up there and coming here.

How they listened to planes flying over European battlefields during the holiday seasons of World War II, as was the case with the late Ted Lopuzsynski, who as a child was displaced from his home in Poland.

How families celebrated Las Posadas by walking from house to house in Mexico, replicating the journey of Mary and Joseph. In 2017, Noah’s Bakery owner Ignacio Veles shared memories of Las Posadas in his hometown of Buenes Aires, saying, “Mexicans feel Christmastime. It feels special.”

How they put up a Christmas tree in the warm December weather of the Southern Hemisphere, as farmer Bruce Ruddenklau of Amity did when growing up in New Zealand, or admired the lights on the Eiffel Tower and the Avenue des Champs- É lys é es, as did the late Frances Charbonnier while growing up in Paris.

How they walked around their house at midnight on Dec. 31, then came inside to toast the New Year, something several Scottish and British people have recounted over the years, including Mike Roberts of Newberg, whom I profiled Dec. 14.

How they fasted during Ramadan, marked Diwali, the festival of lights, or participated in the Buddhist water festival each April. Kate Miller of the Kate’s Thai Cuisine food truck, whom I met in 2020, recalled how enjoyable the water festival felt in the hot climate of Bangkok, Thailand.

How, as children, they put out their shoes on Dec. 5 in anticipation of the arrival of St. Nicholas or another variation of a benevolent, gift-giving saint. Joka Moree, one of my favorite interviewees last year, knew she’d find a chocolate J and marzipan candies in the shoes she set out in the Netherlands.

How Joka, Kate, Mike and all the others loved getting together with their families and friends, sharing special foods, reminiscing and giving treats to children.

Those are common to the celebrations of almost everyone, everywhere, in every era.

This year I added to my “Holiday Traditions” story list two countries very familiar to me, England and France; one that was somewhat familiar, Portugal; and three I’d not previously studied or visited, even through the eyes of others.

Brand new to me were Mali, a landlocked country in northwest Africa, bordering Algeria; Bangladesh, a tiny country on the Bay of Bengal between India and Myanmar; and Georgia, a country in Eastern Europe where it meets Asia. Those countries’ New Year’s and other holiday traditions will be featured Tuesday, Dec. 27.

I hope you’ve already read about my new friends from other places in the stories published earlier this month.

The Coehlos grew up in the U.S., but both their families were deeply in tune with their Portuguese heritage. The couple, who make wine in Amity, continue those traditions during the holidays today, as you read in the Dec. 22 paper.

Roberts, who moved here from England, also recalled taking family trips to Cornwall to play on the beach and eat rich, rich ice cream. These days, he makes similar ice cream at his shop in Newberg.

And Lisa Bernard, from the Rh ô ne Valley of France, is a chef who makes authentic French pastries at the Carlton Bakery. I loved hearing her stories of sharing French Christmas cake rolls, or B û che de No ë l, with her family back home and her in-laws in Pittsburgh.

It was a treat to meet Lisa and a chance to ever so tentatively test my rusty French. I’m afraid I caused her a lot more work, as she said the bakery received numerous orders for the Christmas cakes after the story ran.

C’est la vie, I suppose. That’s life.

Work, memories and food. That’s Christmas.

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