It’s very rare to be in a moment and be able to look at it from the outside and say, I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life. Most of the time, the things we remember aren’t really what we expect: they are the little memories, the split seconds in time, that have somehow snagged on the thorns of our minds and stayed there, encapsulated forever. In the river that courses through our heads they’ve been caught by the odd rock jutting out and they’ve floated in the eddies off to the side. You never really know what’s going to stay, and what will drift on past. But then you look back and you think, yes, I remember that.
I guess that’s what it’s like being away from home at the holidays. It’s December now. All around me my friends are chattering excitedly like so many early morning chickadees in the winter trees back home, about planes winging their way to familiarity and their mother’s Christmas baking and the family traditions they will take part in once again just like they’ve taken part in every year. I’m not going home this year. I won’t be by myself – I’m going to stay with my godparents in London. This year, just like every other year, memories will snag and stay with me for the rest of my life. But this year they won’t be echoes of Christmas past: they will be entirely new. That’s a strange feeling, because Christmas is built on tradition: what I have always thought of being the beauty of Christmas is that every year it’s the same. Sure, there’ll always be that one time you and your brother decided that 2am was an acceptable time to open stockings, or the first year Dad made the turkey. The little things stand out, but the big things remain the same: the feeling of looking around the living room at the motley collection of people who constitute your family, and knowing that this will always be here. You will always be able to slide back in here like you never left.
So on the one hand, I miss my Christmasses past. Watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming to Town and fingers sticky, encrusted in sugar from shortbreads at Nonna’s house. The heavy, heavenly, slumbering heat in the church where they hold the Christmas concert every year that smells of hairspray and of baby powder and somewhere, somehow, of Christmas trees. Meticulously writing a great big stack of Christmas cards only to have them sit unposted next to the front door for weeks until someone breaks down and throws them in the recycling. And there is nothing – there is just absolutely nothing – in this whole wide world quite so magnificent as the glow of the Christmas tree on the night before Christmas. That feeling of waiting, like everything in the room and the house and the world is holding its breath at the sheer unblemished magic of it all.
But there will always be the thrill of the unknown. I’ve never been to London at Christmas. Two thousand dollars: that’s how much it would cost for me to see every familiar thing I’ve ever known, and then back here again. Even if I had that spare two thousand dollars, I wouldn’t take it. I miss my family. I miss my friends. Sometimes I even miss Vancouver, although I’m finding it hard to miss just one place when you’re constantly being reminded of how truly vast the world is. When I miss things, I miss familiarity most of all. But at the heart of Christmas there are threads that transcend the confines of space and time: they stretch through the years, traceable and discernable and familiar in all the madness of everyday life. And just like everything else that comes with leaving your home for a year, it’s a deliciously, wonderously, terrifyingly exciting experience to discover where and what those threads are.
Because to me, Bing will always say it best: