12 Days of Christmas: Home
The last few years, I’ve tried to find a few moments of quiet in the hustle and bustle of the holidays to write a 12 Days of Christmas Blog. I occasionally miss my self-imposed deadline for a daily post, but I’ve found the few hours it takes to create and share my holiday musings have become a meaningful part of my own holiday traditions…
The journey home has been an intrinsic part of Christmas since its humble beginnings. When Mary and Joseph traveled to Joseph’s ancestral home in Bethlehem to register for the census, found the town so crowded, the only place for them to stay was a stable. There was no mention of the possibility of their crashing with any of Joseph’s long lost relatives on a pull-out sofa. Most likely, his ancestors had long abandoned their home place before it was taken over by the Romans. There is also no mention of any of Joseph’s family travelling with them. The Christmas Story begins as a quiet and singular journey of a young couple traveling to the place of their familial roots. Can you imagine how difficult the timing and circumstance of this journey would have been for Mary and Joseph? Mary was “great with child” and riding on a donkey. Much like standing in line at Wal-Mart, the whole experience must have felt at the least, terribly inconvenient.
Despite the commercialization of the holiday, the journey home continues to be at the heart of our Christmas experience. The act of simply returning to one’s home is not as easy as it sounds. My parents are no longer living; the house I grew up in was sold to help pay for the care my mother would require through the years of dementia that marked her end of life. My journey home is physically impossible, yet is something I hold close in memory and spirit during the holiday season.
As a child of the ‘60’s, I remember my eyes glued to the black and white television set on Christmas Eve for the exact location of Santa’s sleigh. I remember the aluminum Christmas tree in our living room picture window; its shiny blue balls and multicolored light revolving with a slight hum as it illuminated the tree. I remember gathering with aunts and uncles and cousins, the singing of carols, the anticipation of gifts and the endless hopes for a white Christmas that rarely materialized in central North Carolina but made everyone feel more alive with its sheer possibility.
Today, millions of folks venture near and far to visit family, often harried by early holiday preparations and the hassle of travel. While even the most humble of today’s accommodations offer more relief than a stable, I never hear of anyone traveling for the comfort of an unfamiliar mattress. Our own lifestyles have naturally evolved into new Christmas traditions. Today’s families are often blended and have expanded to include friends, neighbors, in-laws, out-laws and loved ones.
It doesn’t feel like Christmas to me unless I bake my favorite cookies and share them with everyone I know. I love the sounds of Christmas: the ringing of bells and the sound of spare change as it clangs into an iron Salvation Army kettle. I love Christmas Carols playing on the radio and the greetings of “Merry Christmas” that are exchanged among everyone from friends to strangers. I especially love the quiet that settles upon my household like snow in the days following Christmas, when there’s nothing really left to do but settle into the pillows of my couch with a cat on my lap and take a long and cozy nap!
While our journeys lack the monumental significance of that earlier one, the fact is that like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, we are often caught unaware of the far reaching consequences of the simplest of our actions.
When my three nephews were in elementary school, I stopped giving them “traditional” Christmas gifts in favor of shared experiences. For ten years, until their early years of college and the birth of my own son, they voluntarily forfeited their Best Buy gift cards and socks for an array of annual group outings. My “boys” are now grown, with wives and families of their own, but not a Christmas goes by that we don’t laugh and reminisce about some of our excursions. Some years, we played laser tag, or indulged in dinner and a move or held what felt like a a sleepless sleepover. One year I forced them to experience “culture” and dressed them up in their Sunday best to attend the Steven’s Center production of the Nutcracker Ballet, where I repeatedly nudged the youngest one to stay awake. They still tease me about the year we bundled up in winter parkas and snow boots for a winter woodland hike in the North Carolina mountains only to discover upon arrival that the park was closed. There is a photograph of the four of us hanging on the gates, the “CLOSED” sign featured prominently in the middle. Who it was that took the picture, I do not recall. I seem to recall eating our picnic lunch in the car with the heat and defrost on full throttle. Things didn’t often work out as planned, but that hardly mattered at all. We were creating traditions that continue today and more importantly, formed bonds that surpass time and the obligations of simply being family.
Our definition of “home” changes over the years. Home is the place in our hearts where we hold dear the memories of those with whom we share love and experiences that have enriched our lives. It is less of a physical place and more of a spiritual journey.
May you all enjoy the experience of “home” this year, wherever it may be. Merry Christmas!