Good Grief

Good Grief: this was a piece I had published last month in a newspaper in Michigan. Rooting in place and in people has been on my mind and heart this season of my life:

Home for Christmas? I am. But also, in My Dreams.

The iconic “I’ll be home for Christmas” song during this season can sometimes ignite polarizing feelings for listeners. A song that is meant to convey the love, warmth, and safety of home can also procure feelings of sadness, loneliness, and grief – for several different reasons. I am one of those people who experiences “all the feels” when I hear this song.

“Home” is a complex and nuanced word, feeling, and place for me. This year, home is Whitehall, Michigan and indeed, I’ll be here for Christmas. But in my heart I have memories of other homes during this season and in my house, I hold treasures from Christmases past. My previous homes include nine other countries and four other U.S. States. Knowing that I’ll never be in those homes again for the holidays brings a mixed bag of emotions, but I value the time I had living there and creating memories. The ornaments hanging on my Christmas tree tell stories of the Christmases overseas: from European Christmas market painted glass globes to colorfully beaded South African ones, this collection of sacred objects represent the joy, love and peace of Christmases past.

Growing up as a U.S. State Department dependent meant that home was “assigned” to our family every three years. From South Korea to Germany, and from Japan to Israel, the Christmas season was always celebrated with global friends and family and with different local traditions. I recall in Israel we celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas! And when I played Mary in the church play, I simply went to the Jerusalem market and got myself a robe that probably looked similar to what she wore – minus the extra material for a baby bump. In Korea, my brother and I performed in our school’s choir at the U.S. Embassy for the diplomats and also downtown in the Hilton hotel for holiday travelers and tourists. In South Africa, we took an afternoon swim in our pool after the BBQ lunch with friends on the patio.

In and through these global moves we also developed family traditions that remained steadfast regardless of country or climate or cultural context. In Japan, my mom bought an advent calendar at a handmade craft Christmas market that has hung in every one of our houses during this season. I enjoy decorating the calendar’s living room scene with the holiday-specific Velcro décor pieces for each day. I remember that even when I came home from university (to Vienna, Austria), this cloth advent calendar would be hung but none of the Velcro pieces were placed on it. Even if it was December 19, mom waited to let me hang each piece where I wanted them! We’ve lost one of the pieces through our moves; it just means the milk and cookies plush piece gets put out December 23 instead of December 24.

My favorite family holiday tradition centers on our Christmas stockings. Over thirty years ago, Mom bought four red felt stockings and with a sharpie wrote “Dad,” “Mom,” “Michael” and “Megan” respectively on each one. Now, with faded names and some gaping holes in them, we each take ours on December 25 morning and open the gifts inside them. Typically, there is an orange and banana in each one. But the Whitman’s chocolate gets eaten first.

This is our fourth Christmas in Michigan. This year, we’ve put the Christmas tree in a more central room in the house. I think we all like it in here. We’re still considering what traditions to develop in this place. We love that Dad still grilles; even if it is snowing! One newer tradition is decorating the house exterior and we love to drive around neighborhoods to view other outdoor decorations. In so many places we lived houses were behind walls. Our own house was behind a wall. So why decorate outside? My favorite outdoor decoration this year is the inflatable Olaf.

This month, I am dreaming of places I love. But I am loving being home too.

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