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Christmas 2019

Home for the holidays, like I should be.

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ROCHESTER, New York- 7:00 am there is a loud banging on my door. “Get up! It’s Christmas! Time to wake up!” The voice was overtly excited and child-like. But it wasn’t my 14-year-old sister. No, it was my 59-year-old mother.

I didn’t arrive home until midnight but that didn’t really matter: it was Christmas morning, and time to get up.

But I tried to hide instead.

Ten minutes later the banging came back. It wasn’t going to go away.

I got up, and had Christmas. It was relaxed, fun. The gaudy amounts of gifts that defined the Christmases that I had as a kid evolved into something more modest and sincere. Everybody got a few things, and that was it. The emphasis was more on the day and nobody seemed to miss anything.

I usually miss Christmas. Sometimes I’m off somewhere alone. Sometimes I’m with my wife and kids, who don’t celebrate the holiday. We used to do little token things for me — one year we made a cut out paper tree, taped it to the wall, and decorated it. Sometimes my kids would give me a jar of pickles. But we don’t do this much anymore. My wife has been becoming more and more Jewish-y as the years pass … and a little more militant about not celebrating the holiday. She used to actually go to my parents’ house for Christmas with me. We’d celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, and it was never a big deal. But this isn’t even a consideration anymore.

I’m not mad about this. People change over … decades. I’ve been with my wife for nearly 12 years. I don’t expect her to be the same now as she was then, and I’m not going to cry false advertisement because she no longer has the values and outlook of her 23-year-old self. I suppose this is part of what makes long-term relationships interesting — the evolving together through life, the constant changes, something always becoming something different.

This was my grandfather’s sleigh:

Christmas sleigh Christmas sleigh

He used to be a Santa Claus. He’d mic himself up and run a line into a speaker in a separate room where parents could hear what their kids wanted for Christmas. When he died his stuff was auctioned off — I believe — and somehow his sleigh ended up in a shopping mall in Victor, a suburb of Rochester. It’s the mall that’s closest to where my parents live now.

In the beginning, you travel to get away — to get to new places, to meet new people. But as time goes on, traveling to get back takes on a new degree of pertinence. What you gain from travel provides an indication of what you miss. It is perhaps easy to romanticize under-industrialized, under-urbanized cultures and their tight knit social structures and thick and complex social layouts that are manifested in streets full of people talking and laughing and joking. This is why you travel: to engage people, to learn from and about cultures. But their comes a point when you’re out for so long that you begin to lose your bearings on your own culture; you start losing your place in your tribe — you become more and more irrelevant to the people you’ve left behind. At some point I believe you start to realize what you’re losing … or at least I did.

Happiness is built on relationships, not how many countries you travel to.

We say things like, “I’m a traveler, I don’t fight, I leave” with a sense of pride, but there is only a certain amount of times that you can do this before there’s nobody left to leave. Then what? Leaving perhaps isn’t the noble road to conflict resolution, it’s the easy way out.

Relationships are not easy. They take work.

Relationships are not granted to anyone for nothing. Abuse them and you won’t have any left.

Relationships also mean being there. So when I have the opportunity I go home for Christmas. It’s important.

Other Christmas posts:

Christmas in USA 2005

Christmas in USA 2008

Christmas in Mexico 2011

Christmas in China 2012

Christmas in China 2014


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Filed under: Celebrations, Love/ Relationships/ Sex, New York

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: New York City

4 comments… add one

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  • Mary Soderstrom January 2, 2020, 9:11 am

    Happy New Year, Wade! Relationships are indeed important, and sometimes can be difficult to keep going. But it’s worth trying, because life is so much richer for them. We (my husband and myself) had Christmas with our parents three times over the 30 years between our move to Montreal and their deaths. Mostly that had to do with the problems of flying to the West Coast from here in late December, but we compensated with building traditions with friends who were in similar circumstances.

    Now we consider ourselves extraordinarily lucky that the kids and grandkids are a 20 minute drive away, and that we were able to have a really good time with them on Dec. 24 and 25. But their lives are evolving, the kids are growing up, and they’ve been too busy to hang out with us since. Change continues…

    Hope your trip back to New York was either uneventful or full of interesting things that you’ll soon write about. Best wishes for 2020 to you and yours.

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    • Wade Shepard January 2, 2020, 6:01 pm

      Thank you, Mary! It sounds like your holidays are incredible. Yes, it’s totally worth it to go through the effort of setting up platforms for being with your people during the holidays. Excellent that your kids and grandkids are still nearby. My sister and I moved away and it kind of sucks for my parents on holidays sometimes. They have all these grandkids that aren’t there for the holidays.

      Happy New Year!

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  • Jack January 8, 2020, 11:08 pm

    This was the first year that my wife was fully onboard with no Christmas celebrations at all. I suspect it has something to do with it being her first year in US retail management. We have been slowly waning away from celebrating Christmas over the years. I admit that it was easy to do a simple Christmas when we lived abroad because no one else was celebrating it. Returning to places where people celebrate it made us begin to not celebrate it.

    I can understand your wife increasingly pushing against Christmas. My daughter who was born in China has never really celebrated Christmas that she can remember and Santa Claus has never been taught in our home. Nevertheless, two Christmases ago she would argue with me about whether there is a Santa or not. Why? Media pushes Santa Claus and a belief in him so much on the kids. There doesn’t seem to be a recognition that some parents don’t want those beliefs pushed on their kids.

    When I was abroad, I didn’t worry about these things, but now I do.

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    • Wade Shepard January 9, 2020, 9:43 am

      Yes, this is interesting. When you’re a foreigner people have a different set of expectations for you. They share their beliefs and celebrations with you but they don’t push them on you. There is no expectation that you will become like them or believe what they do. You are different and they like you different. But when you’re in a country that you are taken to be a “one of us” things get much more difficult. People expect you to be like them, and when you’re not they sometimes take it as a challenge.

      Being a traveler is to be a wild card. You don’t really matter. In the USA you matter and it kind of sucks.

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