Can you ever go back home, …

… especially for the holidays?

It is the eternal question, isn’t it? And the holidays have raised the question once again in my family.

Mind you, I have not been home to celebrate Christmas for the last 11 years.  That really is quite some time to be gone. The first year I had the excuse that my boyfriend (now husband) and I were going out West to spend time together before he left for Germany.  We did just that celebrating Christmas in Las Vegas and then moving our way to San Diego, Los Angeles and spending New Years Eve in San Francisco with friends.

The year following I was a newlywed in Ludwigsburg, Germany having been married in the Town Hall only a few days before Christmas.  Obviously my husband and I were not coming home for Christmas that year as we wanted to celebrate in our new home together.  And somehow, every year following there was a different reason not to go home.  Looking back on it the main reason was that we had my husband’s family nearby and it was easier (and less expensive) to have my mother come over for the week rather than my husband and me (and later with kids) fly to America.  

We began to celebrate Christmas every year more and more for ourselves and develop our own traditions.  There were new hand-painted pewter ornaments every year that we began to collect once our children were born.  We would go to the Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt every Christmas, have a little Glühwein and make our way slowly to the stand selling our beautiful ornaments.  Along the way we would stumble upon a new stand selling children’s toys or candles and then, perhaps, another selling Glühwein at which point we would stop and savor another mug of the delicious brew. And of course, we would see friends and acquaintances we had not seen in months or even years. Did I mention the Bratwurst . . . and the Glühwein? So the Christmas Market was a bit of a “Groundhog Day” for us; we knew what to expect every year and that was one of the most enjoyable things about it.

Now at “home,” a new experience in over a decade, I am confronted with all things new. No Christmas Market, no pewter ornaments, no Glühwein or crepes or Bratwurst.   I have Target, Santa at the mall, Starbucks and REI of which all of it is good.   I am happy to be home for the holidays but I do miss my old home and I miss the last years of tradition we had built.

It is funny because this time last year I was planning to come back to the States to give my daughter and son (and me, let’s be honest) a taste of the North American Christmas. I wanted to, before the kids entered the first grade, let them experience firsthand the joys of Christmas lights and Santa at the mall that I had enjoyed as a kid.  And now we are here and the kids are enjoying the time with the friends and family around but I am missing something. Perhaps it is because I am in unfamiliar territory.  The lights are not as bright and the Santa looks a little too perfect with  Miss Mistletoe and Miss Plum Fairy helping out dear old Santa.  Although I grew up here, long ago it seems, I forgot what a North American Christmas was all about for so many . . . shopping.  It seems to be key to the holidays. Stores are open late (midnight for many) and on Christmas Eve many stores are open until 9pm.  Quite a different experience from the closing times in Germany and Switzerland, even in the larger cities.

But new traditions are emerging for us here.  My family has taken up playing instruments again – my husband on the piano, my six year old is attempting to play the flute and our three year old is on a shoebox guitar.  In the kitchen my mother prepares dinner and I am able to trim the tree and wrap Christmas gifts. On Christmas Eve we will search for the Christkind as we did in Switzerland and we will have an extravagant meal on Christmas Day with Lobster and Sekt.

I suppose it really is true what they say, that you can never go back home (in time).  It will never be as it was. So it is time for new traditions, as well as some old.

Sonia (GW guest blogger)