Christmas Day, 2015
I’m alone in my house, the laundry is sorted, and Love, Actually is on the tv. My kids have gone to their dad’s for the afternoon, Dan has gone to a movie with his sons Dave and Sam, and I’m kicked back in the new La-z-boy recliner.
Since moving to California in 2004, every year I have lamented the distance between my family and me. We had spent every holiday together for my whole life to that point: 42 years of them. Mom and Dad, my three siblings and the spouses and kids that followed used to celebrate together; suddenly, it was just me and my husband and our three kids out west. We didn’t even make it to our second Christmas in California. We separated a little more than a year after moving here and subsequently divorced.
Even after I remarried and gained two wonderful stepsons, I was still sad at the holidays. But time and distance, along with the cost of airfare, chipped away at my memories. Eventually I gave up my hopes for a big holiday reunion. I will always love my family, but it just wasn’t going to happen.
There’s this great word I learned this year: hiraeth. It’s Welsh and means “a deep, wistful, nostalgic sense of longing for home; a home that is no longer or perhaps never was. A yearning and wistful grief for people and things long gone.” I was stricken by its perfect definition of the things I was feeling.
Maybe it was the knowledge that my sorrow had an actual word, which meant that countless others had felt it too, which led to this year’s epiphany. Sam, a chef, had moved to Portland. Charlie was away at college. As I decorated my house for Christmas, which I really do, something occurred to me. Like the Grinch, it started in low… then it started to grow. Maybe Christmas, I thought, wasn’t about the family of my old life; maybe it was now going to be about my new family. I realized that my house, the one I deck out in lights and Santas and nutcrackers, would be the one that family came home to.
This Christmas Eve, it all came together. Dave, his lovely girlfriend, and their charming, well-behaved dog were there. Dave and Sam’s aunt, cousin and grandmother on their mom’s side even came. The house was filled with the smell of Sam’s cooking (pork shoulder!) and the sounds of laughter and animated conversation. Wine was flowing, cookies were devoured – and I was completely and totally happy.
This morning we tore through our presents. Now that my kids are older, they take more pride in choosing the right gifts for their loved ones, which made everything sweeter. And then things started to wind down, as they always do. I took a nap. Everyone else left for a bit, and I sat down to write.
Last Sunday, when Sam walked in the door after Dan had picked him up from LAX, he stopped for a moment, taking in the twinkling lights on the tree, the stockings on the mantel, the Santas on every surface. “Whoa,” he said. “I forgot how much you do Christmas!”
And now, it’s clear that I have an even better reason to do Christmas: my family is coming home.
Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have we.