Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. It’s also an emotional time. The sound of Christmas music frequently brings lumps to my throat, as well as joy to my heart. I don’t know why. It’s just my reality.
We spent the last six years in Alaska, which is the BEST place to spend December! You never have to wish too hard for a white Christmas in Anchorage. Because Alaska sits so far north, even the color of the sky changes during winter. The mountains are snowcapped, touching a deep-purple sky at sunset that shifts to a vibrant light blue as you look higher. The evening northern sky is a perfect host for a full moon. Top it off with a glimpse of the northern lights after dark, and there is nowhere else I wanted to be during the holiday season.
The one drawback to living in the last frontier was the distance from family. Lori and I have a rule that Christmas is spent in our house, no matter what. Family can visit on Christmas day, or we can travel to visit them on either side of December 25th. However, traveling on Christmas day itself is just no fun for us and the kids. Likewise, none of our family was interested in coming to Alaska in the dead of winter. We got accustomed to spending Christmas by ourselves. There was a melancholy to it, as many of our friends had family nearby to share the magic of Christmas day with. Though we loved Alaska, there was a small part of our hearts that looked forward to being close to family again.
Before the Army selected me to attend Georgetown, I had already decided to lobby my assignment officer for a job somewhere east of the Mississippi. My parents were getting older. My siblings don’t travel. I wanted more time with family, for my kids to know the tribe.
When I make a plan, God laughs.
We learned that dad was sick in 2014. The desire to get back east became more urgent, I had two more years left on my assignment in Alaska. We hoped he would beat the cancer. I flew back twice more to spend time with him. Then in April of 2016 we flew back to memorialize my father. My plan to spend more time with dad blew away, as if into a wind.
Dad loved Christmas. I get my passion for this season from him. He loved the lights, the sounds, the feeling in the air. I wanted my kids to see that. By the time he passed, we were going to be up for a reassignment in seven months.
I renewed my push for a job in the eastern U.S. It happened in a way that was so much better than I could have expected. I would be a graduate fellow at one of the top universities in the world. I made new plans. Mom was only a one-day drive away from where we would be living, near Washington D.C. We would spend a lot of time on the road to Cleveland, and she would spend a lot of time flying to Maryland. I couldn’t have my dad anymore. I would make up for lost time with mom.
The world I longed to reconnect with continues to change, in spite of my dreams to return to what we left behind for our Alaska adventure in 2011.
We are traveling to Tennessee soon. This is our getaway, to spend time with my sister’s family. We will visit Dollywood and soak in the lights and sounds of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. There is no more magical place this time of year. My youngest are also excited, because to them Tennessee is synonymous with family. My daughters asked Lori recently if we would get to see grandma for Christmas. They had a hard time understanding that we will be at grandma’s house, without grandma. Mom’s plans changed too. She remarried and is spending the winter in Florida.
We learned last month that our other home away from home, in Maryland, will soon pass to other hands. Lori’s folks are selling and moving to Iowa. I first met my mother-in-law in that beautiful 1860s house 18 years ago. We have celebrated many Thanksgiving meals and family celebrations there. It was bittersweet doing so one last time just days ago.
I didn’t feel like decorating this year. The things that I had looked forward to enjoying back east are fading away. Additional requirements the Army put on me this semester made it really tough to enjoy the region and keep up with coursework. I’m going into finals feeling behind. The tradition is that we start decorating the day after Thanksgiving. I really had to push myself to do that this year. My head told me that there is too much work to do. “Just get the tree up and call it a day.” But decorating is not just about the house. It’s about my heart. I needed to decorate. My kids needed to pull the lights out with their dad and deck the halls. We were on a 4,000-mile drive last year, as the continent celebrated the holidays. We needed to celebrate this year for our own good.
We are celebrating indeed. The tree and lights are up. The kids and I had such fun together. Austin and Clara even helped me to carve out new yard stakes for our lighted candy canes. Life needed to go on here, and it has.
I cannot change the circumstances around me. I can choose to go on, even when it takes work to get into the mood to try.
Christmas will be different this year. It will be different again next year in Kansas. It will be different the year after that. We may not have set traditions for a long time, or ever. We will make memories to cherish anyway.
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