Christmas is a time I’ve never been very fond of. Us Dutch exchange gifts on December 5th, the eve before St. Nicolas and his black helper sail back to Spain. One reason for my dislike of Christmas’ representative, Santa, is that he decided it was OK to grab hold of me in a dark corner and stick his tongue down my throat at a high school dance when I was 17. I think that’s a pretty valid argument. Headstrong, I’ve been determined not to like Christmas tradition ever since.
But this year has been different. Last week my roommates and I took gifts from under the tree I had harvested from the forest with my own hands, adorned with unconventional and homemade ornaments. Two days ‘till Christmas was an extraordinary day on which my good friends from the Netherlands informed me of the birth of their first child. My other friend told me over the phone they are expecting their second baby and my former neighbor also welcomed his firstborn. I was beaming with shared happiness.
That night I found myself surrounded by my dear friends “The Usual Suspects”, a close group of crazy outdoor-fanatics, at our pub Eichardt’s. We exchanged stories and some gifts that show we know each other deeply, though we’ve only been hanging out for just over a year.
We listened to live music, talked and laughed. I looked around my ‘new people’ and cried. As Take Me Home, Country Roads was sung I recalled it is one of my father’s favorite song that he played many times when I was a child. It made me homesick, yet I knew I am in a good place now.
“Country roads take me home, to the place I belong…” tore at my heart, understanding that “home” will always be the Netherlands with my family, while “…the place I belong” is here at this table. John Denver made them the same, but to me they are wildly different and some days I find myself wanting to be in both places at once: Home, and the place I belong. This is the fate of those with freedom to search and find their own corner of the world.
Today I celebrated Christmas at the Compton’s home in Montana, waking to a snowy forest in faint sunlight. It was a thoughtful and humble gathering of family and tradition. This afternoon I shall go skiing and drink hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps to celebrate the days are getting longer again. I will call it a turnaround-Christmas for this Dutch woman. I miss my family and friends in the Netherlands and I love my family and friends in the States.