When You Can’t Go Home for Christmas

So much about the Christmas season beckons us to revisit childhood warmth. Nostalgia is around every corner in traditions, decorations, and family visits. It reminds us of simpler times and calls us to concentrate on what’s really important.

We go to great lengths to preserve and protect these feelings, these memories. We want to feel that same warmth and excitement that we felt in a childhood Christmas moment. We travel great distances and bake cookies like our Grandmother did, all in an effort to go home once more.

So what about the years that we can’t “go home” for one reason or another? How do we contend with the separation from that warmth we yearn to have, and still find sweetness in the Christmas season?

My Grandmother’s house smelled of fresh rolls, chocolate chip cookies (I was certain they were the best in the entire world!), roasted turkey and mashed potatoes. It was a strange and glorious combination. Coming in from the cold, the heat somehow enveloped my body like a cup of hot chocolate warming me from the inside on a chilly, snowy day. She kept the thermostat at 84 degrees, which almost always resulted in us eventually opening a window to let in the frigid air just so we could breathe freely once more. The house was busy and noisy with all the family there, cousins to laugh and play with, aunts and uncles telling stories. It was warm for so many reasons other than the temperature. Life was happening.

When you can't go home for Christmas

It wasn’t perfect. There were fights and mishaps, and often someone mad. That isn’t what stands out in my mind though. I remember sitting down in the living room to open Christmas presents and someone yelling “Go!” and all of us opening our gifts and yelling “Thank You, so and so!” simultaneously. It was complete chaos…truly the most unorganized event, but perfectly orchestrated just the same. That chaos brought me comfort.

I remember late nights with cousins and uncles playing cards and laughing so hard my side hurt the whole next day. I remember how the tree was fat and bushy, sparkling from colored lights and tinsel, and how we were allowed to be in the good living room on that day. I remember my Grandmother cleaning and caring for us so lovingly, and then finally relaxing in her robe at the end of the night. I remember.

Those days continued for a while in my adult years. Even for my oldest son’s first Christmas, things were still the same for the most part. Although, by then, we had lost a couple loved ones and things would never really quite be the same. Slowly it just changed as we all got older and had families of our own. My grandmother is 96 years old now, and while she is doing great for her age, she isn’t quite the same either. Oh, how I miss those days.

This year will be the second year in a row that we won’t be able to be with family for Christmas. It just isn’t possible to make the 4500 mile journey this year. It’s hard. Yet, I also realize that the warmth I’m longing for is something of the past and getting on a plane won’t take me there.

There are many people unable to go home for Christmas this year. Some are in the military. Some, like us, just can’t travel so far. Still others can’t go home for entirely different reasons, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a home, family turmoil, a diagnosis, or maybe the blessing of new life. Life happens and sometimes life keeps us from revisiting what once was. Sometimes that nostalgia is kept at bay.

The warmth doesn’t have to be kept at bay though. The sweetness is there. Think of that first Christmas. No family around, no community to celebrate. It was just them, Mary and Joseph with their new baby, their little family, and some livestock. I sure can feel the warmth radiate off of my Little People nativity set, though, miss-matched pieces and all. Can’t you?

I have my people right here. We have our own traditions and our own warmth. It isn’t the same. Although I loved the chaos of that crazy gift opening, I am much too sensible to be in charge of it. We open one at a time and yet it is perfectly orchestrated just the same.

My kids are convinced my chocolate chip cookies are the best in the whole world and we have a lot of other kinds too. No one likes mashed potatoes around here. Our tree is not fat or bushy. We have no tinsel, and the ornaments keep getting moved higher so the little ones can’t grab them. It is completely out of balance, perfect, and in a room we use all the time.

There are kids running all over the place, playing and laughing. They are all mine. My husband and I tell the stories and open the windows, because it is 84 degrees outside and we have no thermostat.

The house is noisy like it always is, and chaos surrounds us once the toys are opened. It blesses me with comfort beyond my wildest dreams.

The sweetness is found in creating new warmth in unexpected places and grabbing hold of the treasures in front of you.

I miss the simplicity of those fun days at my Grandma’s house. I miss her and all her spunk. I miss her beautiful face and curly red hair. And, oh, how my heart longs to hug her tight. I miss it all sometimes.

But, I wouldn’t trade the warmth of today for that of yesterday. Right here, with my people, is where I belong.

We really can’t “go home” again. The sadness of that is real for so many.

The warmth of the season is ours for the taking though. It may not be the same, but with a new perspective it can be sweeter still. After all, Jesus is here.

The real warmth we’re craving lies with the celebration of our Savior, the intimate relationship He offers, and the eternal home we have in store.



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