I'll be home for Christmas. You can plan on me.
Please have snow and mistletoe. And presents on the tree.
Christmas Eve will find me. Where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas. If only in my dreams.
- Bing Crosby, 1943
What is it about Christmas that creates such widespread agreement? Agreement that family matters. Agreement that making it home for Christmas is worth the time and travel and expense. Agreement that being together on this day is so much more important than convenience. Nearly one third of the U.S. population, just under one hundred million people, travel over fifty miles to be with family for Christmas. And countless more gather within their local communities to spend the day together.
Sarah and I traveled across the country this year to make this happen for our family. This is the first time in fifty eight years I haven't spent Christmas in either my childhood home or wherever Sarah and I have made our home during our thirty-six years of marriage. The same is true for two of our three children. This year, the logistics to get our kids and their fiancés to the east coast from different parts of California drove our decision to take Christmas to the west coast. So we rented a house central to our California clan. That way, each one could drive here and spend as much time as possible with everyone. Our oldest daughter's future in-laws even flew in from Munich to be with their son and us.
I'm up early today, before the sun and everyone else, writing in front a blazing fireplace. It's the only light in the room. I love Christmas. I always have. It tugs at my heart. I was thinking about what we went through this year to bring everyone together when Bing Crosby's "I'll be home for Christmas" came through my laptop speakers. Published in 1943, this song is so beautiful and bittersweet. Millions of men and women, far from home and uncertain if they would ever make it back from World War II, had to be content with being home for Christmas "only in their dreams" that year. For many, it would be their last.
I closed my eyes while Bing Crosby sang to me. I was instantly transported back to my childhood living room. It's 1965. I'm eight years old. Real pine garland is draped over the mantel above the fireplace. Every window has an orange bulb glowing on top of a cream-colored plastic candle, wax "dripping" down the sides. I love my job. Each night at dusk, I race around the house and turn every bulb in its socket. Not too tight. Just enough to turn it on. But not so loose it flickers. I have this down. In ninety seconds, flat.
Through my eight year old eyes, our Christmas tree is enormous. It transforms our home. Wrapped in large red and green and blue and yellow and orange colored bulbs, it pushes its deep pine scent into every corner of the room. The angel brushes the ceiling so she can greet me from her high perch when I walk in. The tree has its own special setup for power, plugged into a decorative brass switch the size of a small coffee can. Turning its ribbed knob between my thumb and finger, I feel the click and the room comes to life. The bulbs burst on and my Lionel train transformer, plugged into the same switch, begins to hum. It calls to me to scoot over on the floor and take its controls. I happily comply and slip deeper into a world of my making.
Stretched out on my belly against the cold hardwood floor, I peer down the tracks to look through the covered bridge I made from my Lincoln Logs. The river below, crystal clear in my mind, runs swiftly around and over rocks before winding gently to the right, disappearing between two steep tree-covered banks. All clear, I crank the handle to full speed! Danger lurks, though, as tinsel hangs from every branch of the forest above, like Spanish moss dangling from Cypress trees. Gusts of wind threaten to pluck it off and throw it down onto the train tracks below. Eventually, they make good on that threat, and the incessant click-clack click-clack is abruptly interrupted with a loud "click!" and a jolt. Sparks flying, the tinsel shorts the rails, instantly reversing the engine's motor and wheels. The train lurches, stops, and accelerates in reverse. Soon, it's full speed "ahead" and the engineer is yelling for all hands to try to stop this runaway train!
Chuckling softly out loud, I startle myself and pause my mental movie. Glancing up from my screen, a patch of blue sky is showing through the sunrise. I'm back. Slowly, I tuck these tender memories of home and family away for safe keeping, fresh as the day they were formed. I look around the room through misty eyes as the sun begins to brighten everything, exposing the details of a room I have only lived in for five days. A room in a rented house that now feels strangely familiar. Comfortable. Filled with family and bursting with love and laughter that pours from our hearts when we're together. We're all home. Home for Christmas. Making beautiful memories we'll return to again and again someday. If only in our dreams.