Home for the holidays, like I should be.
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:
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: