Essay: Home for Christmas

Dec 14, 2016

Are you going home for Christmas this year?  Or are you at home, looking forward to the day that someone else will be coming home for Christmas?  Lake Effect essayist Jim Spangler believes there’s more to coming home for Christmas than simply bridging some distance:

As we newly-minted Marines marched through the Carolina woods in a rare snowstorm those many years ago, our thoughts were not so much of the gruelling four months of boot camp and infantry training, we had almost completed, rather, it was to stay healthy, graduate and in less than a week take our first military leave and be home for Christmas. The alternative was to be held hostage in those barren barracks over Christmas and to finish training after the holidays.

The idea of going home for Christmas had consumed us for weeks. For most, boot camp was the first time away from home. Others, even those of us who had been to college, had never been through anything remotely like Marine basic training.

Ten days at home meant home cooking served on real china, not mess hall grub from dented tin platters. Imagine a hot bath in a real bathtub! Home was to be surrounded by a loving family, not 20-mile marches in the rain, obstacle courses or constant drilling never done to the drill instructor’s satisfaction.

But we weren’t home yet. The fear of failing and its alternative made us all pay close attention as we slowly mastered the implements of 1960’s warfare, machine guns and mortars, flame throwers, hand grenades and all the other weapons of combat. Now, with the prospective of a half-century, it seems ironic that we worked so hard to learn these deadly skills so we could go home to a loving and caring Christmas with our families.

Irony isn’t the only thing that escapes 20-year-olds. To me and my fellow Marines the idea of going home was a place, a specific spot of geography. Home was the presence of Mom and Dad, sisters and brothers and grandparents.

Thanks to a blonde, curly-haired girl of about five I was reminded of what going home really meant at last year’s Christmas Eve service. She was in the pew in front of me. Her dad was holding her as she raised her battery-operated candle high for the last verse of Franz Gruber’s simple masterpiece “Silent Night.” The entire world she knew was right there. It was physical, she could reach out and she could touch it. It was Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters, a home, a Christmas tree, presents and all the rest.

For those of us who know a good many more Christmas seasons lie behind than ahead, going home in that physical sense cannot be. The people and places of our childhood Christmases are mostly all gone. And as it has been for generations, we seniors are now a part of the holiday experience that our grandchildren will remember and hold dear in their hearts long after we, too, are gone.

Our journey to go home for Christmas can only be a journey through our memories, places, and times where neither death nor distance can rob us, where holiday traditions never change, where the mystery and magic of long ago Christmas mornings can live within us for all our Christmases yet to come.

In that way, in our own Christmas collage of memories, we can join that curly-haired little cherub as, like her, we “go home” for Christmas.

Essayist Jim Spangler is a retired newspaperman who lives in Brookfield.