It was that time of year again. Maybe it was that so many of the crew, especially the command crew, came from North America on Earth, either by birth or by ancestry. Recent ancestry. Chakotay smiled to himself. His own roots went much deeper, and it was times like now that he felt the difference most. Even his love for Tom couldn't erase it.
In a strange way, it bound him more closely with others who didn't celebrate. He remembered watching Yael Sternlicht, her eyes bright with tears, emerge from her cabin only a couple of months ago.
"What's wrong, ensign?"
She looked up at him as she adjusted the extra loose jumpsuit she wore to accomodate her religious dress code. "Sir?"
"You're clearly upset, Yael. Why?"
"It's my holidays. It's hard to rejoice so far from home. I miss my family. I miss having other people to celebrate with."
"I'm sure there are people here who would be glad to help you celebrate. Like Mr. Neelix."
She shook her head. "It doesn't work that way. Neelix...tried. He even built me a sukkah, a booth, in the holodeck last year. He meant so well, I didn't have the heart to tell him that it just doesn't count. Or that the matzo he baked me last Passover was totally forbidden. So I just do my best alone. And most of the time I'm fine. It's just...this was my family's favorite holiday. My mother would always get leave if she could and we'd build the booth and decorate it and eat in it, and my brother and I would sleep in it if it didn't rain." Her eyes became distant, as if she could see her childhood.
Chakotay nodded. "I understand. There are festivals I can't celebrate properly here."
"You know, next week, Jews all over the Federation will be dancing and celebrating ?" She shook her head. "I'll be fine when my schedule gets back to normal. Lt. Torres has been very patient with me and all these days off I've requested. It would be so much easier if I *could* do my work...I'm going to be late for my shift. Thanks for talking, Commander. Maybe, if it would help you, you can tell me of your holidays." She mustered a smile and walked on.
He'd even caught Tuvok and Vorik standing quietly together in the observation deck. He heard them talking before he could greet them.
"My father would burn the offering in the morning. My mother would prepare the grain and the vegetables and the oils and bring it to him." Vorik's voice was calm, but there was something behind the words.
"This was my custom as well. My wife's family uses a peculiar oil which smoked and stung. She said it would not be Spring Offering if she did not sneeze throughout. My own family chose a scentless one, but when families merge, so do customs. My son is performing it now for his."
Chakotay had turned and left. This was not a conversation for his ears. They had their dignity and privacy to protect and he respected that, just as he respected the pain behind Yael's words and the solemnity of the Wiccans who'd approached him only six weeks earlier.
"Commander? We would like the exclusive use of a holodeck for one night." Maeve Johnson, one of his former crew, was the spokeswoman for the three.
"Is there a reason?"
She nodded. "Samhain is coming up, and we would like to celebrate it in a semblance of outdoors. It's not the real thing, but we will manage as best we can. It's the night of October 31, you see. If we're in the holodeck, we don't have to see, well..."
He nodded. He himself would put in a token appearence at the party and dance with Tom before heading to the bridge. It was a relatively innocuous celebration, but he could understand how these three would prefer to avoid the party in preference for their own observances.
"Permission granted. Be sure you inform your shift commanders if you must miss work."
"Thank you, Commander."
"Thank you, sir," echoed the two Starfleeters who were with her.
He couldn't back away from Thanksgiving. Tom said it was his favorite holiday, and it made him very happy to eat that huge meal with the rest of the crew who celebrated it. It was a surprisingly large number, but a lot of colony worlds carried the customs of their place of origin. So Chakotay swallowed the memories of his exploited people along with sweet potato pudding and basked in the glow of Tom's eyes. That made the whole thing worth it. In actual fact, Chak enjoyed the whole experience. Harvest festivals, even without a harvest, are times of joy that most people share - like Neelix's Prixin or Yael's Sukkot.
There was tinsel in the mess hall that morning. The captain's barrette had gold and green bells, and he caught her and Tom planning where to put the tree. Neelix was already bustling around and making plans for parties and taking food inventory to make sure there would be enough.
Chakotay went to Tom and greeted him with a kiss. Tom grinned and hugged him.
"Merry Christmas, coeur fort! Where do you think we should put the tree?"
"In someone's private quarters? Along with the tinsel and the music?"
Tom looked at him in shock. "You want to hide it all away?"
"Not hidden. But does it belong in the mess hall?"
"It's *Christmas*, Chakotay. It's a wonderful time of year." Janeway smiled. "It brings back some of the best memories I have. Surely you have them, too?"
He shook his head. "I don't celebrate Christmas. On my planet, my people celebrated only their own holidays. We did celebrate the winter solistice, of course."
"Isn't that like Christmas?" Tom, his arms still around Chakotay, looked confused. Chakotay kissed him again.
"No, pretty one. For one thing, the winter solistice occurs in the month of May. We decided early on that we would be in tune with the seasons on that planet."
"I don't remember..."
"There is no solistice in space. I spent it in meditation and remembrance of what my family...my other family...was doing."
"I would have helped you...." Tom held him tighter.
"We all would have, Chakotay."
"I know. This was the way I wanted it to be."
"But what's wrong with trees and tinsel? I always have a tree in my cabin."
Chakotay closed his eyes. Now what was he going to do? Christmas and its trappings were the last things on his mind when he and Tom moved in together. It was Tom's cabin as much as his, and Tom deserved to celebrate his holiday.
"I look forward to it. I'm sure it will be beautiful." He put all the enthusiasm he could muster into his voice. Christmas trees are beautiful, and they really have nothing to do with the religious aspects of the day. Just like the presents he'd be required to give. He liked giving gifts,and had a good selection he'd picked up in their travels, and he even had some rations to spare. It would be fine. "It's just that we don't do this for any other holiday. Every other celebration is optional to some degree, but this one takes over the ship."
"What's wrong with sharing a little joy? This is the *most* joyful of holidays." Janeway smiled again. "And it's full of the spirit of love and sharing, so of course we want to make it as big as possible."
"Yeah, Chak. Don't be a Scrooge or a Grinch."
Chakotay looked at him. "I know about Scrooge - it's from that Dickens story. What is a 'grinch'?"
"It's from a children's story. The Grinch had a heart two sizes too small, so he didn't like Christmas. Didn't like it at all. So one day he decided to steal it by taking away all the food and gifts and trappings, and he found that the spirit lived on without it, so his heart became four sizes too large and gave it all back so that all the Whos of Whoville could celebrate properly."
Janeway nodded. "I always thought that the Grinch hated Christmas because he'd never been invited to share by the Whos. The story has it he was bothered by all the sounds of celebration, if I remember correctly."
"See, my love? All we want to do is to make sure that everyone gets a chance to celebrate by spreading it as far as we can."
"And those who don't enjoy it are Grinches with too small hearts? Or are just jealous because we don't have such holidays?" Chakotay pulled away from Tom.
"Oh, loosen up! I love you, big guy, but you can be such a...prig sometimes. Why don't you just let the rest of us celebrate it the way we want to. You can just hole up in the cabin if you want."
"Until you put up the tree. Then where do I go? Or Yael? Or Tuvok or Vorik? Or the Bajorrans? Should we just disappear? Or pretend your holiday is ours?"
"Neelix has no problems with that. It's not even from his quadrant."
"Yes, I know. I also know we celebrate his Prixin. He likes this. His culture, like yours, believes in assimilating other celebrations and making them universal. That's a valid cultural choice. But even Prixin only lasts one night and once its over, its over. If you decorated personal quarters and this one room for the one day, there would be nothing for me to say. Tom, I have never forced my choices on you. You eat what you want, you drink what you want and I respect that. You have never tried to make me drink alcohol or eat meat, so I know you respect my choices."
"Of course. I love you. Do you not want me to decorate the cabin?"
"You have every right to decorate our quarters. Can I ask you not to decorate the bedroom, though?"
Tom nodded. "That's reasonable. Maybe you have some decorating ideas from your...you don't, do you?"
Chakotay shook his head. "No. We do things differently. I'm sorry for exploding like that. Please, Kathryn, Tom, accept my apologies."
"Perfectly understandable, Chakotay."
Tom kissed his cheek. "Always, big guy."
"And, Chakotay...relax. You might actually enjoy it. Tom...what about wreaths over the tables?"
Chakotay shook his head as he found a table by himself.
"Commander...thank you." Yael Sternlicht sat down next to him.
"You heard? I should know better."
She nodded. "It's not something evil. Sometimes it's just something you have to accept."
"No,but I know it's not their fault. To them, like for Neelix, a celebration is a celebration no matter what's behind it. It's a nice attitude. I just prefer my celebrations to have more meaning to them." She shrugged. "So, tell me about your solistice festival, and I'll tell you about Chanukah. If you want...and only if you want...you can watch me light the menorah tonight."
"If I am permitted to watch, I'd be honored. On Winter solistice, the mothers of the tribe..."
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