Here Home for the Holidays

By Thanksgiving, I had said it probably 25 times, in almost exactly the same sentence structure, with the same subordinate additions.

‘Nah, I’m staying here for Christmas this year, you know, it’s great to get home – Langhorne home – for Christmas, but yeah my parents and I basically agreed that I’d come home every other year. Last year was a pain, cancelled flights, COVID tests, all that, it’ll be nice to have a nice relaxing Christmas.’

I sounded like someone rationalizing a failing, a lost job, a recent breakup in which they had not been the victor. I sounded like someone doling out big portions of overcompensation. But it’s true, I was looking forward to a nice quiet Christmas at home. Here home.

Since we were both staying in Prague, Burke and I decided to make our here home Christmas a big happy event. We decided on a big tree, in her words ‘taller than me’, which I pointed out wasn’t the achievement it might sound like. We came up a menu of American side dishes – mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, pineapple souffle, stuffing – to cozy up to a main dish to be named later. Since it was just us for Christmas, we would get lots of gifts for each other and the pets (though I didn’t wrap the pets’ gifts too well, the dog has trouble pulling strings and the cat just doesn’t appreciate the effort). Here home Christmas was on!

I hauled the taller than me tree for a mile and half through the season’s only snowstorm. I carried it on my shoulders and in front of me in two arms as if it was a wrapped bundle. Each week I pitched a new main dish: ham, turkey, a roast chicken, lasagna. Every one of which was met with a half-hearted ‘okay’ which meant ‘no’. At least once a day I’d say to someone, ‘I can’t tell you how happy I am that I don’t have to fly across the world in December.’ They’d look at me in wonder and I’d continue. ‘Going to be a relaxed, chilled out Christmas.’

‘Good for you sir, now would you like to pay for that sweater?’

‘Oh sure.’

There were other signs that I was making a good choice. The grim promise of airport madness, threatened strikes, and in December bad weather reports that forecast snow and ice and delays and stranded people. All while I sat in my pjs on my couch, drank a beer and ate mashed potatoes along with something. My dad had decided (as he does now and then) that he would skip Christmas. In his mental mechanics of this plan, he doesn’t get anyone a gift and they do the like. He enacts this plan by telling my mom and a few others, but doesn’t mention it to his many friends and other relatives, instead hoping that his broad circle of friends and family can read his mind. Thus he ends up getting gifts and not reciprocating. This goes in tandem with a promise to only do one of our family’s holiday parties (‘Let me tell you something, this year I’m doing Christmas Eve and not Christmas. I’m staying home. I’ll order Chinese food.’) I don’t mind not getting or giving a gift, I just don’t want to hear about it while watching football.

On Christmas Eve, we spend the day watching Christmas movies and cooking. Our main dish is fried chicken cutlets, following the trend of our adoptive country. Later in the day I see pictures of my Langhorne home family Christmas. There are colorful hors d’oeuvres and salads and meatballs and happy Galeones in flannel shirts and elastic-waist pants. The tree is beautiful. In one of these pictures, my father actually looks happy, dare I say, teetering towards festive. Though he is holding a plate of pasta and it’s hard to be unhappy while you’re doing that. Though I am happy with my decision to stay here home for the holidays, I do feel some twinges of sadness and longing. There is nothing like home for the holidays. Even if home is far away, across a sea of discomforts and inconveniences.

On Christmas we have a wonderful day. I get and give gifts, finding in my old age that giving is more satisfying than getting and wondering why the world doesn’t get that yet. We listen to Christmas tunes, walk the dog, watch movies, and eat chocolate. In the evening, we tidy up and eat eggrolls and jalapeno chicken poppers, the traditional Christmas dish of an American in Prague in 2022. Six hours behind us to the west, my family is settling in for another day of eating and pushing the boundaries of their elastic waistbands. I talk to a friend in the evening.

‘Nah, I stayed here for Christmas this year, you know, it’s great to get home – Langhorne home – for Christmas, but my parents and I basically agreed that I’d come home every other year. I’ll be there next year, though, don’t you worry. Next year it’ll be nice to have a big crazy family Christmas again.’

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