I’m going to be spending Christmas away from my husband for the first time in twenty-four years this year. My mother is ill, so my son and I will be visiting and helping her over the holidays. Work and home responsibilities (animals…did I mention animals?) mean my husband will have to stay on our farm. Plus, I know he will want to see the new grandson and his very first Christmas. I’ll miss that, but I’m making a trade-off.
We have never been one of those families that fill a quarter of the room with presents, and as my husband reminded me, we can celebrate Christmas anytime we choose. Still, we become attached to that idea of being home for this particular holiday.
Thinking about that reminded me of the one other Christmas where I really felt I wasn’t home.
Sixteen years old, I was living with a family in Switzerland, thousands of miles from everything that was familiar to me. Their traditions weren’t my traditions. To top it all off, I had just recently had my cast removed after tearing ligaments in my ankle. I had had to undergo surgery within a week of arriving in my new temporary country. Homesickness had also arrived in a big way.
There are things I remember, like how fascinated and somewhat frightened I was by the fact my Swiss family actually burned candles on their tree. Nevertheless, it was beautiful. They also opened presents on Christmas Eve. While it was pretty cool to be able to open gifts early, it was a bit of a letdown Christmas morning. Santa was nowhere to be seen. Instead, there’d been St. Nicholas, but he’d come and gone weeks earlier on December 6th.
All in all, it was a culture shock, and—Swiss or American—we were supposed to be celebrating the same holiday. The real comfort was in going to church. Despite the fact that it was darn cold inside that big sanctuary, the tunes were the same ones I had grown up with.
I remind myself of that now. Christmas will be different this year, but there is always something to be pulled out of it that can help give us a feeling of home, even when we are far away from the ones we love the most.