I’m writing this in what is for me the late afternoon on Christmas Day, but back at my home in California, it’s almost 8:00 AM. I am in Vienna, Austria, in an Airbnb with my roommate Josh and his older sister Jessica, and I’m just taking a few minutes to reflect on Christmas this year.
If I were back at home, I would be waking up soon to eat hot fudge sundae pop-tarts with my brother. I don’t remember exactly when it began, but it became a tradition for us to eat that flavor of pop-tart only on Christmas and the days following until the box ran out. Then we would wait with our dog, Linus (I’m afraid somewhat impatiently) for Mom and Dad to wake up and set up the video camera to document this year’s round of Christmas presents. Linus would be allowed into the living room on his leash, instead of remaining confined to the kitchen and garage. Then, one at a time, we would open our presents, and Linus would shred the wrapping paper as we toss it to him. Nico and I would probably get some new books, or a board game or video game that we spend the entire afternoon playing. Mom would get new scrapbooking tools or a new Old West movie, and Dad would get the latest Marvel movie or a new nerdy game. And of course, Linus would get a couple new chew toys.
This year is the first year that I have spent Christmas away from my family. I know that Christmas is only one day among many, somehow made special by the fact that it was arbitrarily named as Jesus’ birthday, or by the consumerism that swirls around this date, or by the mythology of Santa Claus that has evolved over the years. I know that my parents and my brother will still get the gifts that I sent to our house through Amazon. I know that we will play board games over dinner together again once I’m back from my year abroad. But despite all that, I can’t help but think how much I miss them right now. The foresty smell of the tree, its needles starting to turn brown, and the sticky candy canes and Hershey’s chocolate are cherished memories. But even more so the inside jokes I share with my brother; the hilarity our dog never fails to bring to a situation; the classic home-baked meals (and desserts) that Mom always makes; my Dad’s timely puns; and the shared meals where we watch movies or play board games together. I will facetime them later this evening – for them perhaps mid-morning – and maybe we’ll even play a board game together if the Wifi connection is strong enough. Even so, I still miss my family. Facetiming isn’t the same as sitting together around a dinner table. I miss my family, and I can’t wait to see them again in April.
But this Christmas has still been a merry one. Josh, Jessica, and I have had fun exploring Vienna’s palaces, museums, and Christmas markets, and we had a gift gift exchange of our own this morning around our pizza box and candy wrapper Christmas tree. I talked them into watching The Muppets Christmas Carol with me, one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies. We have had a comfortable and relaxed day enjoying one another’s company and friendship.
I am blessed to have such a wonderful family and such fantastic friends in my life. Whether my immediate family back in California, or my extended family spread from Texas to Alabama and Tennessee, or my church family at Conejo Valley Church of Christ, or my friends that have become my family in Pepperdine’s London program, I am deeply grateful for you and I love you all.
Merry Christmas, and happy New Year!