“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