Sleeping next to the Christmas tree was a lovely thing to do this year. It’s something I’ve never done before because sleeping under the Christmas tree meant Santa wouldn’t come. A few years after that belief was over, I realized that sleeping under the Christmas tree meant our parents couldn’t get rid of us to put the brightly wrapped presents under the sparkling lights. So, for twenty years I’ve slept in my room, away from the sweet smelling evergreen branches decked with Christmas ornaments collected from family history, sunday school class and various worldwide adventures. This year, sleeping next to the Christmas tree was just one of many things I was able to do because I strayed from tradition.
For those who do not know this about me, I’m obsessed with tradition. Doing the same thing every Christmas is important to me and I’m not really sure why. It might be because the rest of the year is not centered around traditions, so it always comes full circle at Christmas. It provides a certain rhythm and rest that I greatly appreciate. This year it became equally important to leave tradition and visit my sister in Germany for the holidays. Family is at the center of all our Christmas traditions and I wasn’t about to let her miss that most important component of Christmas tradition. So, though this Christmas was very different, it was also similar in its own special ways.
We still watched the annual Christmas movies, Kristi baked the Christmas morning cinnamon rolls (and I ate them, as is traditional), we sang “Silent Night” at a candlelight Christmas Eve service, we listened to Michael W. Smith’s Christmas albums on repeat. Here we were, Kristi and I and several of her similarly orphaned friends at Christmas, bringing together a combination of our own important traditions to make this day special for all of us. I appreciate the differences in our traditions, especially as I begin to realize that this is not going to my last Christmas not at home.
Life is changing fast and it is becoming clear to me that my parent’s Greenlake home might not be the place I will be every Christmas morning for the rest of my life. Maybe Africa is calling, or Federal Way, or Haiti, or the East Coast. There’s a whole world beyond Seattle and I don’t believe that God is writing my story all in one place. Eventually he may send me elsewhere and I will look back on this Christmas as the one where I realized it’s okay to stray from tradition once in a while. It’s okay to step out uncertainly into a new place and see what awaits. I always thought I would stay. My memory takes me back to the day that Dad and I lay on the trampoline watching clouds go by. I was twelve, perhaps younger, and I remember leaning against him and telling him that I was never going to leave home, that I was going to live with him and Mom forever. Older siblings moved out and in and out again and eventually it was my turn to leave. Those summers that I thought would be spent at home in between college years actually became long abroad adventures to Austria and Rwanda and home suddenly had a new meaning.
These past few years have been a constant exploration into the definition of “home.” Being away from home at Christmas, but being with Kristi, has made me realize that home is where your loved ones are. Finally that little phrase “home is where the heart is” makes perfect sense to me. My heart is not in one place, so neither is my home. There is a tiny bit of home here in Kandern. There is home in Rwanda. There is home in Seattle. And maybe someday home will be found in another place.
This Christmas shifted away from many traditions near and dear to my heart, but that is okay. The heart of the season isn’t wrapped up in the chex mix, the Russian nesting doll wrapping paper or the sentimental ornaments hanging on the tree. It isn’t in the Christmas dinner, the stockings hung with climbing rope or the intricate paper snowflakes. It’s in mother, father, brother and sister. It’s in the love of Christ that binds us together. It’s in the joy and love found in all these things that I remember why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. In the words of our dear friend, Mr. Grinch:
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!” And he puzzled for three hours, til his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”