I'll Always Be Home for the Holidays
About four o’clock Sunday afternoon, Rich and I strolled out of our house in downtown San Anselmo, California and ran into a neighbor in her eighties. She was jauntily attired in pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers to walk her dog.
“Some things never change,” Rich murmured happily.
Embracing eccentricity is one of the hallmarks of our little town, which is just 20 miles north of San Francisco and about 20 degrees off kilter from mainstream society. People often show up at the local coffee house in outfits that include a sleepwear element, such as slippers, flannel PJ bottoms, or a robe flung over jeans and shirt, but it’s rare to encounter what we’ve come to call “the full San Anselmo” on the street in broad daylight.
“It’s wonderful to see people honoring the traditions,” I agreed.
Tradition has been much on my mind in the past weeks, as this is the first time in 12 years that Rich and I are spending the holidays in the US, and the first time in 30 years we’ve been with family in California. We’ve never decorated this house for the holidays and have no idea where locals go (besides the couch in front of their own TV) to ring in the New Year. When people comment on how happy we must be that we’re home for the holidays, I nod and smile but don’t feel that actually applies to us at all.
Our tradition is to gather with friends in Seville on December 25 — which, curiously enough, is one of the few days the Spanish don’t throw a fiesta. After weeks of parties and dinners, culminating in a lavish feast with relatives on Christmas Eve, most Spanish families are simply too exhausted to go on. Gift giving, that powerful motivator to gather with your nearest and dearest, takes place on January 6, Three Kings Day, so Spanish families tend to take a bit of a breather until then.
My friends, however, are made of sterner stuff. Every December 25, Rich and I host perhaps two dozen guests, from babies to octogenarians, a mix of locals with no family obligations and expats in the mood for holiday cheer. By three o’clock our apartment is a madhouse, the hall filled with shrieking children, the kitchen jammed with pot luck dishes, the feeble old electrical system struggling, not always successfully, to power up the oven, stovetop, and microwave. Before we pass the turkey, we hand around holiday crackers, those paper tubes you pop open to get a flimsy paper crown, a cheap toy, and a lame joke such as, “Q: What did the cowboy say when he walked into the German car showroom? A: Audi!”
Yesterday I was thinking of Christmases past and wondering about this year’s celebration. So I called my sister Kate, who’s hosting the family on Christmas Day at her home in Silicon Valley.
“People will start arriving around three,” she said. “There will be about two dozen of us, including kids. Everyone is bringing a pot luck dish. It will be a total madhouse.” So it seems Christmas won’t be so different this year after all.
As this particularly crazy year draws to a close, many of us are wondering what lies ahead. Everyone is predicting that 2017 will be a challenging year for the nation and the world. Of course, “everyone” has been wrong before, so maybe the next 12 months will be filled with unprecedented peace, prosperity, and good will towards all. But just in case that doesn’t happen, if we are indeed entering turbulent times, then it’s up to us to help each other weather the storms.
I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now. (Does anyone?) Perhaps I’ll find myself in Seville celebrating with friends, or gathering with family in California, or wandering the streets in my pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers. But as the Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō reminds us, “Every day is a journey. And the journey itself is home.” Looked at from that point of view, wherever I am, this year or next, I'll be home for Christmas. If only in my dreams.
Amigos, I'm taking the next two weeks off to enjoy the holidays with family and friends, so I won't be posting on this blog again until early January. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the holidays, the year just past, and what's coming up in 2017. Cheers!
12/17/2016 05:38:40 pm
May your optimistic hopes for the next year be fulfilled, though Eeyore tells me to not bet on it. Best for this holiday season and the coming year. Milton
12/17/2016 07:32:08 pm
Having written a post on the power of optimism, I also know it has to be tempered with a good deal of common sense and applied with plenty of hard work. Whatever happens, Milt, it helps to have friends like you in my corner. Happy holidays to you and Donna and good luck in 2017.
12/17/2016 05:40:09 pm
Great post Karen!
12/17/2016 07:32:33 pm
12/17/2016 05:41:26 pm
We will also be in the US celebrating Christmas, having just left Greece as part of our regular Schengen Shuffle. I've been welcomed 'home' by friends on social media but I don't particularly feel that I have come 'home'. When we are straddling two worlds as you two and we are doing, it is difficult to simply leave one behind. I wish you a Merry - crazy, happy day - Christmas and here are wishes that the New Year turns out to be one of the best the world has ever seen (fingers crossed)!
12/17/2016 07:36:40 pm
As expats, the holidays are always going to be a bit topsy-turvy for us, Jackie. But we are also extra lucky to love people in more than one place, so it kind of balances out. Good luck to you two in your celebrations! As for the coming year ... we live in interesting times.
12/17/2016 05:42:42 pm
Karen, this is a beautiful post. I love that quote from Matsuo Bashō, and might "adopt" it as a theme for whatever is next for us. I believe that holidays are wherever and whenever we are with family...either family by birth or family by choice. Our food tradition is the Italian feast of the 7 fish on Christmas Eve. I'll be doing that and thinking of my mom and grandfather who used to collaborate on that meal of calamari, eel, clams, smelts, anchovies, baccala, and mussels. It's one of my favorites, full of happy memories. One year, just before everyone arrived I counted the fish and realized I only had 6! I quickly called my sister who was en route and asked her to pick up a few pints of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food ice cream...that was dessert and our 7th fish! Enjoy your time with family and friends. San Anselmo sounds like my kind of town!
12/17/2016 07:40:57 pm
I love the Italian fish tradition, Denise, and this Christmas Eve we're joining an Italian friend for her family dinner. Love the Phish Food ice cream idea and will "adopt" it for the occasion. If that gives us 8 fish, so be it! Thanks for the idea, and have fun at the holidays! Hope we see you one of these days in CA or Seville.
12/17/2016 05:57:27 pm
12/17/2016 07:44:11 pm
Thank you for your kind comments about the blog. As you can no doubt tell, Lois, I love writing the posts, and the exchanges that happen in the comments section are a big part of the fun. Good to hear from you, and I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas!
12/17/2016 08:50:07 pm
Dear Karen, I always enjoy your postings and especially this month. My husband and I are not expats but do travel to Europe most every year at Christmas time. We're not there this year and we are missing it so much. In my heart I am at the Christmas Markets enjoying the people, decorations and lights, food and glugwein!! When I step off the plane I feel like I've come home, a feeling of comfort and belonging. So we're here in Georgia but wishing we were in Germany! Merry Christmas to you and your family.
12/18/2016 04:56:39 pm
What a lovely holiday tradition, Charlotte. And the great thing about memory is that it lets us revisit those feelings of comfort and belonging wherever we are at the moment. May your holidays be merry and bright, and include glugwein, which I recently learned means "glow wine," which is so apt!
12/18/2016 07:02:24 pm
Lovely post Karen!.
12/19/2016 03:39:49 pm
We decorated our tree yesterday and it just didn't seem right without the girls to help us. We miss all of you and look forward to seeing you in Seville when we get back. Besos y un abrazo muy fuerte!
12/18/2016 08:08:40 pm
Going home for the holidays... reminds me of my older single brother (my four sibs stayed in my hometown in northern Bavaria), who still asks me if I'm "coming home" for Christmas. I left home 37 years ago.
12/19/2016 03:53:31 pm
People who are deeply rooted in one beloved place can find it hard to understand those of us who feel happier moving and exploring. My two brothers closest to me in age, for instance — total homebodies and they wouldn't have it any other way. Rich and I have lots of relatives who still wonder when we'll come to our senses and return to live in the US full time — to come "home" for good — but they no longer ask that out loud, so we are making progress!
12/19/2016 01:48:55 pm
A very happy Christmas to you and Richard. Hopefully see you in Seville when you get back. Muchos besos
12/19/2016 03:55:29 pm
And a very merry Christmas to you, Rena. Give your mom a hug from me and enjoy your time with the family. See you in Spain whenever we mange to get back. Besos y un abrazo muy fuerte, amiga!
1/11/2017 07:19:18 pm
Sounds like a very eventful Christmas break! Neither my Dad nor Ian's parents celebrate Christmas, so we went to the west coast of Ireland for Christmas, somewhere I've been going, on and off, for 20 years. We packed up the car with everything required for the first few days (we went on Christmas eve) and set sail on a very lumpy sea at 2.40am. Lovely to see old acquaintances and meet new ones. Wonderful! I'd like to be somewhere sunny next year - St Lucia appeals :)
1/12/2017 05:13:51 pm
What a great way to celebrate Christmas! I love Ireland, and not just because a lot of my ancestors and Rich's came from there. I am picturing you all on that lumpy sea at 2:40 am, making your way to a warm harbor. Sounds like a grand time.
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
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