Full disclosure: this post isn’t strictly travel-related. It doesn’t showcase panoramic landscapes or document lessons learned abroad. However, no matter where I’ve traveled or gone, coming home for the holidays has always been important to me. This post — a short essay I wrote about 3 years ago — captures some of the reasons why.
As it is 3 years old, many things have changed (as they always do). However, the message and sentiments still ring true.
The branches have traded their leaves for white sleeves
All warm-blooded creatures make ghosts as they breathe
Scarves are wrapped tightly like gifts under trees
Christmas lights tangle in knots annually[*]
I tilt my head back. Snowflakes fall like glitter onto my cheeks, and I spread my mittened hands wide as if to embrace the sky. Christmas lights twinkle all around me. ‘Tis the season.
The snow continues to drift down to the ground like confetti, piling up and accumulating. The party has begun—the ‘Holiday Season,’ the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year,’ the big countdown to Christmas. This is my favorite time of year. I live for this party. The endless celebration: festive music, delicious foods and desserts, countless family gatherings, and it’s all kicked off by the snow.
I’m one of those people that everyone finds annoying—the person who just can’t wait to start celebrating Christmas and the countdown to it each year. In recent years, my celebrations have begun creeping in even before Halloween. I fully recognize that there are other holidays before Christmas that we can’t skip over, and believe me, I do fully celebrate both Halloween and Thanksgiving—just with Christmas music playing in the background. And you won’t find me complaining if either of those holidays is decorated with snow.
Nothing beats a good snow day. When the landscape is transformed into a ‘Marshmallow World,’ a ‘Winter Wonderland.’ The snow clothes the trees, their branches glittering in the sun, and the ground is covered in a thick blanket, tucked in until spring. It’s a magical sight. It’s a magical feeling. Time spent indoors cuddled in a blanket, sipping warm hot chocolate, watching movies with family. Christmas is coming.
For me, the Christmas-week represents love. The week is packed with multiple gatherings of family. Long days spent with cousins only seen once a year. Time spent baking peppernuts and other Christmas treats with my mom as we belt out Christmas songs at the top of our lungs with her old Donny Osmond CD. An incandescent happiness permeates this week. Large snowflakes pile up outside, providing a beautiful scene enjoyed from the warm indoors. We spend time by the Christmas tree, stringing it with lights, reminiscing about the past, and reading the Christmas story.
So we sing carols softly as sweet as we know
A prayer that our burden will lift as we go
Like young love still waiting under mistletoe,
We welcome December with tireless hope
Each year, 40 or so extended family members on my mom’s side caravan through the snow from the Christmas celebration at my house to the nursing homes and assisted living homes in my hometown. As we squeeze into the hallways, the cafeterias, even rooms, we fill the spaces with tracks of snow and five-part harmonies, eagerly singing carols to all who will hear. Sometime an uncle or two will stay behind to drink coffee and soak up the solitude, but for the most part, babies, cousins, aunts, uncles, and the occasional fiancé or boyfriend all accompany us on this tradition each year.
This Christmas will be our third year without my grandpa who started it all. It’s not quite the same without him, yet his deep bass voice carries on through my younger brother. This year will be different in another way though. For the first time, both family heads and tradition-founders will not be lending their voices to our chorus. Last year my grandma moved into the assisted living home connected to the nursing home, so when caroling-time came, she trucked along with us, singing to and greeting her friends, her neighbors. However, after suffering a stroke around Easter this year, she was moved to the nursing home. This year, we will be singing to her, praying that she’ll recognize us and the carols she’s been singing with us in her strong alto for dozens of years. I can only imagine the emotion that will color that moment. Yet as we sing to my grandma, we’ll be joined by my cousin’s newborn, Ailidh. And that will bring hope. Hope for the future, for the things to come—hope that all will not be lost.
To me, snow brings that hope. Christmas brings that hope. That even as things change (and things do change, no matter how hard I try to fight it or ignore it), there’s a promise of tradition, of family, of being whole.
So I’ll continue to belt out Christmas songs in early November and dance with excitement when a snowstorm is forecasted while everyone else groans—just thinking about snow makes me giddy. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m too sentimental. But snow means Christmas. And Christmas brings tradition. Family. Hope. It represents all that stays the same. Yet the snow that accompanies it is fresh. New. It’s a clean start. Together, snow and Christmas pair change and tradition. And together they bring peace.
As gentle as feathers, the snow piles high
Our world gets rewritten and retraced every time
Like fresh plates and clean slates, our future is white
[*] These lyrics as well as those at the middle and end of the essay are excerpts from “Snow” by Sleeping at Last.