The process of entering new seasons of life and exiting old ones is especially apparent during Christmastime. Over the years, it is inevitable that holidays will look different and traditions will change. But the true essence of the holiday, if we’re careful to recognize and protect it, remains.
I cherish those memories of being tucked close under a blanket next to my siblings, listening to my dad read “‘Twas the Night before Christmas” as we eagerly awaited Santa’s arrival. I’ll always treasure the long drives home from our grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve, scanning the sky for Rudolph — and being sure, just sure that I had seen him. Christmas morning was something truly magical. After falling asleep before our plans to catch Santa could be fulfilled, my siblings and I would wake our parents as early as possible so we could open presents. We had to wait at the top of the stairs while they got everything ready, and the smell of baking cinnamon rolls still reminds me of that precious anticipation. Dad would get the video camera ready, and we’d charge the tree.
When I think back to these moments that seem far-off yet are still so incredibly close in my mind, my heart fills with a warmth that is often lacking in our everyday lives.
Sure, it’s a commercialized holiday season, and the cherished time spent with loved ones is romanticized. Upon closer examination, those rosy Christmas recollections might fade like my excitement about the first flurries of snow once the first big snowstorm hits Boston and threatens to leave me stranded. But deep down there is a truth to the joy surrounding the holiday season. Not only do we get to return to special traditions, but for most this time of year is, quite literally, a break. This might look like days off work, a few weeks of no classes or maybe just some extra babysitter time budgeted in. It’s also the chance to focus on what’s important. We circle back to this season each year, and we are given the opportunity to step back from the media, the political polarity, to come to the table, look at one another and have a conversation — maybe one that involves more talk about food than it does political campaigns.
While the bustle of the holiday season can bring stress and anxiety, if we put effort and intentionality into our mindset, we can make an impact on the world around us and give everyone a much-needed reprieve. For me, Christmas is a time not only to return to the tree decorated with ornaments that are older than I am, but to focus my attention on the table in the corner of the room where my mom sets up the manger scene each year. It tells me where this sense of peace comes from and where I can go to find it again when I need reminding. For me, that is the original gift, the true promise, and where the calm can be found in the midst of the storms.
This year, I will enter into a new season of life as I marry the man of my dreams and we start traditions of our own. The old and the new will come together, and I look forward to all of the memories we will make even though I don’t know exactly how they will look. I will recall those cherished childhood Christmas nights and bring them with me into the future. Despite all of the changes to come, I find resolve and joy in the knowledge that the Christmas spirit can live on within the uncertainty. The promise of Christmas remains. Peace can be found no matter what stage of life we are entering, and no matter how unfamiliar the path appears up ahead.
The idea of the Christmas spirit might sound too sentimental or nostalgic to some. But “nostalgia” comes from two Greek words — nostos meaning “homecoming” and algos which means “pain,” “ache.” And so we arrive at nostalgia, which is a longing, and not just any longing, but a longing for home. If the holiday says anything to me, it says home. It says warmth and love and not only a house or the smell of specific foods in the kitchen, but a sentiment. A promise that this haven is here; it’s wherever we create it. It can be in a literal place, or it can be a mental shift where we make space for the things that truly matter, the people or actions that fall to the bottom of our priorities the rest of the year.
And this promise is for anyone who wants it — even when it doesn’t feel like we have a sense of home, when there’s no evidence of respite in the storm. You don’t even have to celebrate Christmas to take part in the spirit of the season.
It means that even for those who aren’t with their loved ones this year, for those deployed overseas whose family members feel their presence around the tree even more strongly when they’re not there, home is waiting.
The Christmas spirit never left. Let’s return to it.
• Charlotte Pence, daughter of Vice President Mike Pence, is the author of “Marlon Bundo’s Best Christmas Ever” (Regnery Kids, 2019).