I’ll Be Home for Christmas If Only in My Dreams
What I love most about Christmas is the spirit. The lights go up, the music comes on and the sugar intake gets cranked up a notch. In the northern hemisphere winter fatigue hasn’t set in yet. Snow is welcomed, if only for a short while, ugly sweaters come out and warm holiday themed drinks are abundant. The spirit of giving brings this feeling of cheer as you chase the rush of finding the perfect gift for your loved ones. It is family, it is presents, it is traditions, it is joy.
Traditions from Home
Christmas season begins the second we walk in the door after arriving home from Thanksgiving. My mom pulls out the decorations and I watch the Polar Express while eating leftovers. I am never hungry, but I do not want my family to get to them before me so this is solved by just, eating them anyway.
The morning of Black Friday sometimes I will go out to the stores but it depends on my mood. Around 9 am we head out for the tree farm and our yearly mission to find the perfect tree. Clydesdales pull the hay wagon through the acres of spruces, pines and firs. We need a tree with endurance since it goes up on the day after Thanksgiving and stays up until at least January 6th (my birthday). The time it takes to find a tree usually directly correlates to how cold it is outside. Dad is 6´1” so we use him as a general measuring tool for where to cut the trunk. He saws away and Mom points out which branches to save so she can take home and use them to decorate.
As we wait for the tree to be shaken and baled we wait inside what looks like a scene straight out of the North Pole. Golden retrievers greet you and keep you company as you sip drink hot chocolate, sample fudge and browse the decorations.
Our tree doesn’t have store bought sets of matching ornaments. It consists of a lifetime’s worth of ornaments that my mom gets us every year, marking the various phases of life we went through. The wolf and her cub from my third grade obsession with wolves, the stage where Winnie the Pooh was cool again after spending the last few years pretending like you’d outgrown him and the gang, Harry Potter (not a phase), some of the homemade gems and my dog’s first Christmas.
You can sometimes tell how precious an ornament is to me based on the type of hook it gets. The fancier the hook, the better the ornament. Tree placement works a lot like marketing. While it’s important to evenly distribute throughout the tree, the best ones are front and center at eye level.
We don’t have matching stockings either. My parents have traditionally shaped stockings with their names, I believe made by my grandma. Brendan, the youngest has a Dalmatian stocking, Steven a brown bear and myself a polar bear. His name is Kris, a bit on the nose but give me a break, and the presents go in his overall pockets. I love him so much and for a while there he used to be a member of the stuffed animal gang that came to bed with me, even when it wasn’t Christmas. He will forever be my stocking and that is non-negotiable.
The rest of the day is spent baking dozens and dozens of cookies. It’s pretty fun at first, but without fail, after the second type of cookie is in the oven, I begin to lose enthusiasm. But by then it’s too late. Thumb prints, peanut butter blossoms, cake batter cookies and Oreo balls are what I make each year but I enjoy a good sugar cookie, shortbread or the buttery crumbly pecan balls at a holiday party.
We have Christmas Eve brunch with grandma and Christmas Eve night spent with a friend and his family which has become one of my favorite parts of Christmas. Christmas morning is for our family, although by now since I am out until 3 or 4 in the morning nobody waits for me to wake up anymore. My mom always makes chocolate chip scones for breakfast, without fail, even though she’s hosting the entire paternal side of the family over in the afternoon. Everyone comes over for food, cookies and presents and we kick everyone out by early evening so we can make it to a Christmas matinee at the movies theater. One of the rare times we do something just the five of us.
In Europe they go all out. Think Rockefeller Center but everywhere. Each plaza has a massive tree and an ice skating rink, each street lined with ribbons and lights and each window with elaborate decorations. But it’s the markets with local treats and trinkets that are the main event. Germany gets all the glory but there are some pretty great ones spread throughout the continent. I spent last year on the hunt for the best mulled wine in Romania and was not disappointed. I visited six different Christmas markets, each capturing their city in a different way. The smells of meat roasting and dough frying tickle your taste buds under the delightful canopy of lights. Timisoara was my favorite mulled wine but Sibiu was my favorite Christmas market.
In Thailand, they also go all out. Despite having a population of about 95% Buddhist the Thai people never miss a chance to decorate or celebrate any occasion. Schools have pageants with dance performances, songs and even plays of the story of the birth of Christ. The school that I worked at gave me a costume that looked like something Mariah Carey would wear. Highly inappropriate for school but all in the holiday spirit I guess.
This will be the second Christmas I am spending in South America and I am not all that impressed. In countries with such a high population of Catholics I would’ve thought Christmas was going to be the end all be all. It’s easy to forget it’s even December because there is nothing around town that would indicate otherwise. Mix in the warm weather and forget about it. In Peru, I spent it in the Amazon, which one can hardly complain about. There was no service to reach the outside world and the day just sort of came and went. This year will be a bit more noticeable, but I suppose everyone has to do the holidays differently this year.
I made a rule that I would try to make it home for Christmas every other year. It’s hard to be away but it’s also not the most budget friendly trip. I try to make the most of it, watching my favorite Christmas movies and listening to all the songs but it’s never the same. It’s a choice I’ve made and it’s just one of the downsides that comes with the territory. I still continue to choose this lifestyle and we all must take the good with the bad. I think I just need to start making new holiday traditions of my own. Adapting to your surroundings is one of the most important skills you build as a traveler and we’ve all had to do a lot of it this year.
No matter where you are in the world, no matter who you spend the holidays with (or who you don’t) no matter what holiday is your favorite holiday, I hope you are safe and happy! It might have started as with religion (and for many continues to be) but the Christmas spirit is about a joy that I hope everyone can share this year and every year, no matter how it looks.