Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 42: No Place Like Home

There's a chill in the air, everyone is stressed out, and you're still buying gifts. That's right folks – it's that time of year. Merry Christmas.

My favorite time of the year. I love Christmas! However, this year is a little different. Experiencing Europe at this time of year has been a treat. I've seen the humble decorations of San Gimignano to the grandiose tree in Milan. Being separated from friends and family for the past month and a half has been difficult, but the season shifted my emotions into overdrive. This is my first Christmas away from home and the only way I can reconcile my feelings is to write. Lace up your snow boots because you're about to be knee deep in emotional slush.

Siena was home to my favorite Christmas tree.

'Twas the night before Christmas and I was in the kitchen. Flour. Red hots. Gingerbread. As usual I was behind schedule, working frantically like some underpaid immigrant worker to transform a few basic ingredients into scrumptious shapes. Another year slaving away making gingerbread cookies for my closest friends. Making these cookies has become a sort of self imposed tradition. For the past five years I've made a quadruple batch of these cookies in a last-minute, twelve-hour baking marathon. On Christmas day my hard work has always been rewarded as I deliver plates of cookies to friends. Spending time at each house, chatting and catching up.

The Santa Croce Christmas market in Florence.

But this year is different. While I'm sure my parent's kitchens are far from tranquil this holiday season, I miss contributing to the chaos. This is the first year in the past five that I haven't made cookies. I think it's more upsetting for me than my friends (though maybe not, because my cookies are A+ amazing). I miss giving my gorillas red hots for eyes and watching them bubble while in the oven.

Stellar stars from a booth in Florence's Christmas market.

All of this nostalgia from my past is colliding with my unknown future and making a me an emotional mess. On one hand I miss my friends and family more than ever. On the other hand, I am incredibly lucky, traveling Europe for 10 months. I am feeling rather mixed up. The result of this collision is a sort of mental and emotional train wreck that has me thinking more deeply about Christmas than ever before.

Practical and hilarious street decorations in Milan.

Considering what Christmas means to me has constipated my brain. While I won't continue with that analogy, a few thoughts have dribbled out.

Family: Every year my family gets together and has a huge dinner. Fart jokes run late into the night. Pictionary has been the board game of choice for years. You would think Pratt would have made me the MVP but they couldn't prepare me for stress like this!

The Tree: Real or bust. Ever since I was little I loved decorating the tree. Even after getting a pickle, my favorite ornament is a little model of the Starship Enterprise. It plugs into one of the light sockets and flashes... "Beam me home!"

Food: Call me biased, but my family makes the best food. I already missed Aunt Jo's cherry pie for Thanksgiving and now the stakes are higher. Not only will I miss the pie but my grammy's authentic Swedish peppakakor cookies. Mail some – seriously!

Presents: Opening the presents is a ritual. When I was young I would wake my parents up at 6 am, practically rabid. I needed my presents, man. But in recent years buying the presents has surpassed opening. Maybe there's something to this giving thing.

The Chauction: Simply the best time that ever existed among a group of friends. The Chauction is an annual Chinese Auction that turns into a sloppy fight to the death over a mountain of toys for 9 year olds. I will miss it dearly.

Cookie Delivery: I already described my annual kitchen disaster. Delivering cookies to my friends is something I look forward to all year because not only do I get to catch up with my friends, but I bake them with Mom.

Going to Church: I have a long post to write about my search for God but I usually don't enjoy attending church. I make an exception once a year and go to the Christmas service. What can I say, I'm a sucker for candles and handbell choirs.

The quaint decorations of San Gimignano.

After writing that I'm not sure if I feel relieved or worse. Family and friends are so important to me throughout the holidays. Traveling has made me realize that I don't spend enough time with family or friends. That's going to change when I come back from Europe. After seeing how close families are on the other side of the Atlantic, I have a lot of love to bring home. Spending time with my family at Christmas and during other holidays is always a highlight of my year so I don't understand why I don't do it more often.

There's no place like home for the holidays but I've got my family in my heart and I'm carrying them with me. Here's a napkin, blow your nose.

Spectacular candies from a Christmas market in Bologna.

Much of the appeal for Christmas comes from traditions. Repeating the same rituals every year creates a warm, comfortable environment. My current situation is quite the opposite. I am separated from my traditions. I have no idea what I'll be doing for Christmas but I'm optimistic nonetheless.

Snowflakes decorating a storefront in Venice.

This Christmas I'm focusing on everything that I have to be thankful for. Traveling's challenges have made me grow and become more aware of what I have and what I do not. Thusly, I am in a better position than ever before to be thankful. I am thankful for the opportunity to travel. I am thankful for the roof over my head. I am thankful that I'm not freezing in a barn somewhere with a bunch of goats, wise men, and babies.

Milan's beautiful tree and duomo.

I've only got one present this year. By some chance I lucked into the most generous family on the planet. I'm staying with my host from Geneva's mom in Vevey. She bought me a Christmas present. I have no idea what it is but there are some chocolates, a card, and a gift. I wonder if she has any idea how much this means to me. It's interesting how not having any other presents makes you appreciate what you've got. When I was little I'd give my parents mile-long lists. Now, a stranger has touched my heart with one gift. This relates to a broader concept I'm learning about of happily receiving what's given to you and not asking for more.

My only Christmas present.

This Christmas will be unlike any other. I won't be opening any mountains of gifts, seeing my family, or delivering gingerbread to my friends. After writing this post, I feel like a little kid – staying up late on Christmas Eve, unable to sleep because he's so excited. But I'm a big kid, and I'm excited for different reasons. I'm excited because I'm learning about Christmas and myself. I'm excited because I have so much to be thankful for. I am excited because I'm all alone in a new place. I'm excited because it's supposed to snow in Switzerland on the 24th. I'm excited because I'm accepting PayPal.

Joyoux Noël!

PS: everyone that comments on this will get a postcard.
Please email me your address.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails