The first time I went home for Christmas, I was in my freshman year at college 1500 miles away from the military base in New Hampshire where my parents lived. My flight was to put me in Boston by 6 p.m., but bad weather delayed it. The counter agent promised to get a message to my parents that my plane would be late.
I arrived in Boston three hours after the flight was due and saw no familiar faces. After having my parents paged and getting no response, I called the house 50 miles away. My mother said they had just returned from driving in a blizzard to the airport where they were told that my plane had come in and I wasn’t on it. They returned home. And my father was furious with me.
When I asked how long it would take for them to come back for me, my father got on the phone and made it clear he would not get out on those roads again. From the sound of his voice, I knew that he had been drinking more than usual so it was best he didn’t drive.
“But how can I get home?” I asked.
“You’re in college. You figure it out,” he said and hung up.
I discovered I could take a shuttle to the bus station, wait two hours and get the late bus to the town outside the military base. I had just enough money (no credit cards) to pay each bus fare. The snow had stopped falling and it was a beautiful clear night by the time my cab from town pulled up to my front door at 2 a.m. No place ever looked as good. My mother helped me carry my things up the stairs. In the corner of my room stood a Christmas tree about my height, covered with red lights and white angel hair. It was the first time I ever had a tree in my room.
Even though exhausted from the trip, I stayed awake a long time watching the tree lights casting a soft red glow in the corner. From my bed, I could see through the window the moon glowing on freshly crested snow. I thought about families and how good things—even small evidences of love—can sometimes cover the bad, like snow blanketing the dirt and asphalt. Dad’s alcoholism and cynical nature had been a constant source of distress throughout my childhood. But that night he had unknowingly given me a gift—the realization that I had grown up.
As I looked at the tree, I thought of my mother, an undemonstrative woman, who didn’t often express her love in tangible ways. She had decorated it for me, despite the synthetic strands of angel hair that cut her hands and aggravated her allergies. That tree remains one of my best Christmas memories.
Going home for Christmas. That phrase can either lift or sadden our hearts. For many it is a poignant reminder that there is no childhood home or parents left to visit and, like it or not, we have grown up.
Christmas often brings with it a paradox, a reminder that the best times can be woven tightly together with the worst times. But that is also the way the first Christmas was. Mary and Joseph endured an arduous journey to the village of Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral home of record. They arrived late and tired. There were no friendly faces to greet them—just a grudging innkeeper offering a dirty stable as a refuge. But that stable became the home of the most miraculous event the earth had ever known. As author Michael Card said of the nativity in his book Immanuel (Nelson 1991), it was “a paradox and a mystery…the plainness and the greatness of Jesus, the grime and the glory.”
Things were not easy or Christmas-card perfect for Mary and Joseph. But God was with them, reminding them of His love in the form of the Baby they tenderly held, the one who was called “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” The amazing grace of Christmas is that when God came home for Christmas, He made His home with us.
Vicki Huffman’s Christian non-fiction book, The Best of Times, in which she uses many examples from the familiar to make a spiritual point, is now available on Kindle at amazon.com for only $2.99. And the first chapter of her Christian novel, A Secret Hope, which begins and ends in the Christmas season may be read free in the gift shop here.