Sunday Reading: Holidays Away From Home

words Jordan Hernandez
photo Maren Morstad

Holidays were always a big deal for my family growing up, particularly Christmas.

Every year I would always climb into the front seat of my dad’s car as we set out to pick out the perfect Fraser Fir tree for our house. I would always be wrapped up like a mummy in my many layers of wool and cotton, giddy with excitement. On the way we always talked and listened to Christmas music on the radio, with the low hum of cars whizzing by and sometimes the pitter patter of rain falling onto the windshield. The car rides to and from picking out our Christmas tree were always our time, my Dad and I. It was during these quiet moments that I got to know things about him that remain special to this day. I learned how to pick out a tree that would be sturdy and long lasting. I would watch my Dad’s strong hands as he shook them all, watching to see which trees scattered pine needles to the ground as quickly as moths swarming and clinging to artificial light. One year I learned that my Dad’s favourite Christmas song is ‘The Little Drummer Boy’, and that some years it even makes him cry.

Christmas traditions growing up meant baking cookies, stringing multicoloured lights and garland on our banisters, sneaking things to be wrapped into the dining room and shutting the door. And then going to Christmas Eve candlelight service at church, hot chocolate on Christmas morning, phone calls from far-away relatives and a big lunch, of course followed by a long nap. Our traditions as a small family were always simple. But no matter how small our traditions were, they were always ours. They were comforting, they were expected, they happened like clockwork. I never questioned them because they were all I knew, they were our own version of those snow globes, the kind you shake and shake but everything remains the same within the glass bubble.

This year will be my first Christmas away from my own kin. I am going to another family’s home and partaking in their holiday rituals. I will be thousands of miles away from own home in Oregon, and then still thousands of miles away from my family in North Carolina. The geography of it all seems confusing, but in my heart the only map of Christmas has always just been a dot of a little town in North Carolina.

But I also find something most exciting, and in a way – romantic about extending one’s self further away from my family unit and immersing myself into a loved one’s. This means stripping away traditions and rituals that are second nature to me, and observing a new way of celebration and togetherness. To me it’s not so much about the bed I get to wake up in or the table in which we all gather around, but that the waking is slow and sombre and the gathering happens together in communion. Breaking bread every evening and taking turns with the dishes. I have also found myself overwhelmed at the sight of my beloved existing and functioning as a member of his own clan. The way he tenderly picks up and cradles his niece and kisses her forehead, going out on a boat with his brothers, wrestling with his nephews and softly talking with his Mother over morning coffee.

If this tumultuous year in society has taught me anything, it’s that home looks different for everybody. I hope no matter what home you spend your holidays in, it treats you warmly and most kindly. Perhaps home to you is surrounded in a forest of trees, or a good book with creased pages. Gathered around a fireplace with close friends or family. Floating on your back in the depths of the sea or in the arms of someone you love. Work at making that place your own. Spend time shaping and honing the goodness it offers. Learn to be patient if you must muddle through a season of temporary living. Find solace in the makeshift. I once read somewhere that home is defined as “the abiding place of the affections.” Find a place to gather or distribute your affections and let them soak there. Don’t squander all that you have worked with your hands to create. Spread your roots and never fear the coming cold.


Jordan is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregan, and the founder and managing editor at Sapien Magazine. Read her welcome to winter in issue 34 of Oh Comely, out now.