“There’s No Place like Home for the Holidays.”  Perry Como crooned it and I find myself humming along. But, as the Christmas countdown enters its final week, I wonder whether the lyrics should be tweaked. By embracing the cross-cultural threads in my life, I feel grounded most of the year. However, on Christmas Day, I am adrift and wonder if others find their emotional compass spinning at Yuletide.
A multi-continental lifestyle is a privilege. I value the diverse traditions, rituals and customs that have become part of my life. One of my mottos is, “Enjoy the moment; don’t compare and don’t wish to be elsewhere.” For me, this philosophy works. But, at Christmas I pay a price for being a wanderer.

Where’s home?” A simple cocktail party question can be very hard to answer.  Happily, for Oscar and me, “home” is wherever we are together. That sounds sappy, but has brought contentment and embodies my motto of enjoying the moment, wherever I may be. But, Christmas is subversive and challenges that definition.

Childhood memories pull the family homestead to the forefront. Nostalgia sets in. “Home” becomes the scent of fresh pine, the warmth of the crackling fire, and glistening ornaments on a majestic tree. However, if I actually go to Boston, the reality is bittersweet. The treasured traditions magnify a life I left behind.  Christmas in New England distills my choices into a potent concoction that leaves me pondering instead of peaceful.  Like other globetrotters, I must accept the fact that You Can’t Go Home Again is more than just the title of a novel.

So, I often exchange a white Christmas for one in a warmer clime. Viewing fireworks at midnight in Argentina or watching the boat parade on Florida’s Intracoastal are also ways of being home for the holidays. Nonetheless, I prepare for some “unexpected turbulence” during each holiday season. When I wake up on the 25th, I will be disoriented.  No matter where I am, I will think I should be somewhere else. So, I keep my seat belt fastened and manage my malaise with a few precautions.

I reinvent rituals.  A few years ago, my husband bought a red, table-top tree for our holiday decor. At first, I thought the artificial branches were a joke, a silly substitute for fresh needles touching the ceiling. But, I pulled my memory-laden ornaments out of storage and discovered a new way to blend my north and my south. Like me, this small tree can move from one house to another and now the rebellious red “pine” has become my personal symbol of a cross-cultural Christmas.

I listen for harmony.   Christmas carols hold a special place in my holiday psyche.  As a child, we caroled door-to-door and sang around the piano.  At Cornell, I delighted in the rehearsals of the Sage Chapel Choir, preparing for the annual carol service. Music provides a Christmas “fix”… not Musak played ad nauseum, but voices raised in harmony. With a little research, I have discovered holiday concerts by singers such as The South Florida Boys Choir. Last week, I attended Seraphic Fire’s Candlelight Christmas Concert. What a joy to be immersed in their harmonies and spirit of peace.  Ironically, I learned of this chamber choir from a Brazilian!  Music is a wonderful cultural crossroads that knows no borders.

I remember the Magi. The three kings brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, setting the stage for gifting that is culturally specific. (I, for one, have never seen frankincense or myrrh; have you?) I am intrigued at the degree to which giving presents differs from one place to another, even from one family to the next.  What is appropriate? For example, having grown up exchanging books, I was shocked to learn that to some this choice is impersonal.  How should it be wrapped? Beautiful paper, bows and cards were opened with ceremony and admiration in my youth. What a contrast to the simultaneous ripping of bags at midnight in Buenos Aires.  When it comes holiday presents, I do as the Romans do, but I also remember the wise kings. They gave to a stranger of humble means. Regardless of my latitude and longitude, I seek to share the holiday spirit, by donating to charitable causes.

So, do you agree with Perry Como? Is there no place like home for the holidays? Or, do you struggle, like me, to find “home” at this time of year?  Do you have any pointers for navigating past the holiday hazards?  Please share them…as your gift to your companions in this cross-cultural café.

And remember, these challenges reflect our rich and stimulating lives. What wonderful problems to have! I wish you very joyous holidays, where ever you may be.

© Copyright 2012 by Bethe Lee Moulton



Lois Claus
12/17/2012 11:45pm

I enjoyed your Christmas message, Bethe. Here at The Seabrook is also a different kind of Christmas-- a big family of friends. It's nice.

12/18/2012 11:02am

Having been at The Seabrook for a book talk, I can imagine that it is beautifully decorated for the holidays. It would be fun to add up all the Christmases of all the residents (a very large number), and then to imagine how many rituals and traditions have evolved over those years to keep the holiday spirit while embracing new family members and traditions.

12/18/2012 12:42pm

That's the wonderful time of the year
I feel a dust of warmth within people no
doubt about it. My Mom called me from
Brazil and told me even strangers ask
for a simple gesture of true love a "Hug"
That's a simple yet kind way to accept
love in your hearts.
So, you all that reading this, let's start the
trend. It takes this just simple gesture. Thanks
Beth to show us the way. Happy Holidays

12/18/2012 1:02pm

Although I have spent many months in Brazil, I was never in that special country on Christmas Day. Even so, Brazilians gave me the gift of the abraço (the hug). Hugs and smiles are contagious and a wonderful way to express the true spirit of the season. JR, thank you for sharing your warmth "virtually" through your comments to all my readers.

Beth Marks
12/18/2012 1:45pm

The Magic of memories is that they are permanently seared into our hearts, our souls, and hopefully, our HAPPY nostalgic holiday sighs....as long as we continue to take our Authentic, Manny layered selves wherever we put our head down at night, we will ALWAYS BE HOME!

12/18/2012 4:21pm

I love your combining "authentic" and "many layered selves" into a whole. It is delightful to think that we can be diverse and authentic within the same self. Thank you for that lovely reinforcement of our capacity as culturally complex beings (and souls).

Ginny Lenz
12/18/2012 7:53pm

My husband, coming from a different country, and different denomination within Christianity, made our family's Christmas celebrations so much richer by introducing us to some of his traditions. We still have an Advent calendar, play his German carols, eat stollen and all those delicious cookies even though he is no longer celebrating with us. A Merry Christmas to everyone.

12/18/2012 8:23pm

It is wonderful when one finds ways to combine different traditions in a new mosaic with new color and texture. One of my favorite traditions is leaving cookies and milk for Santa, along with a carrot for Rudolf. I was delighted to discover that on the "Noche de Reyes" (Night of the Kings from January 5 to the morning of January 6). Before going to bed, the children leave grass for the camels, along with their shoes with the hope that the Kings will leave something for them.

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    A story of risk and potential reward, delivering a cultural feast, business intrigue, an intimate portrait of personal transformation and an unexpected love story. (Click on cover for more)
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    The Author

    Bethe Lee Moulton brings a unique perspective to her writing, grounded in strong family roots and inspired by global experience.  Her career as an international strategist inspired her to write her award-winning novel, Until BrazilHer blog, The Cultures Within Café, is a place to share the challenges and joys and challenges of living in an ever-smaller world. Bethe divides her time between Boston, Buenos Aires, and Boca Raton, to be with her far-flung friends and family, spanning four generations, multiple cultures, and diverse worldviews.  



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