I’ve never spent Christmas far away from home. Well, apart for the one year in high school where I was switching schools and ended up spending my Christmas break at my aunt and grandma’s house in the Warsaw suburbs. Still, with my aunt sending my youngest cousin to sit on my lap when I looked pensively at the Christmas tree during carol-singing, and lots of laughter and general jollity over midnight barszcz z uszkami, it didn’t feel like I was far away from the Polish celebrations in always chilly Buffalo.
This year, I hung red and gold ornaments on an artificial Christmas tree while the warm breeze tried – and failed – to blow apart the branches. I wore sunglasses inside to keep out the glare of the capricious sun. I set up a Polar Express train among a village of American Christmas houses over which a manger full of giant Nativity figures kept watch. I wore dresses and flipflops instead of fuzzy slippers and down jackets. I ate tasty saltenas and delicious picante de pollo to the accompaniment of fresh mango juice and smooth maracuya-flavored soy drinks. The church we went to for morning Mass was mostly empty, but vibrant, sparkling with colorful lights flickering on and off and what sounded like a bird caroling along with the cheerfully enthusiastic if slightly off-tune choir.
On December 25th, I woke up in the shadow of Christ.
It was indeed Christmas.
And I was home, because that’s where my heart was.