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"I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams." What a nostalgic phrasing of the Christmas spirit. But what if one's situation makes it more accurate to say, "I'll be home this year, but Christmas is only in my dreams"? That's how I feel right now.
Although Ukraine has a long Christian heritage, seventy years under an atheistic dictatorship destroyed much of what once was. I'm told that Ukrainians have rich traditions for the celebration of Christmas, and while I'm sure that's true, I have to say that all I've seen of Christmas in nearly three years of living here is commercial. All of Kyiv's shopping centers put up Christmas decorations and begin to sell Christmas cards and wrapping paper early in December, but sadly, most of the city's inhabitants see all of this pageantry as preparation for the New Year, not as a celebration of Christ's birth.
Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. When I try to define what it is about Christmas that touches me so deeply, all I can say is "atmosphere." Even though the majority of Westerners have also lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas, enough of the message of, "Peace on earth, good will toward men," has remained to make it a special time for believers and non-believers alike. We've all noticed how people tend to smile more easily and be more considerate in the weeks preceding Christmas (unless, of course, they're trying to find a parking space at the mall). The spirit of giving our best to bring joy to those we love–just as God sent His Son to give salvation to the world He loved–is infectious, and it makes the whole Christmas season warmer and brighter than any other time of year. I miss this general spirit of good will. If I'm honest, I also miss many other things, but in my mind, they all combine to create the Christmas atmosphere that has always been so dear to me. I miss Christmas caroling, hot apple cider, people dressed in festive clothing, Christmas music everywhere you go, Christmas parties with friends, houses decorated with lights, the smell of Christmas baking, gift exchanges (white elephant and otherwise), the cozy ambiance of homes lit only by the glow of the Christmas tree, and–what goes along with each of these things–the laughter and special times shared with loved ones. I know that none of these signs of Christmas is directly related to the true reason for the season, and many Christians feel that they actually detract from it. But somehow, without them, I feel like I'm skipping Christmas. The birth of Jesus was such a momentous event that I feel it deserves all this celebration. Although most people may not remember Him in the midst of the festivities, I always have, making the signs of the season that much more precious to me.
A friend of mine in the States recently told me that she is planning a Christmas party and expressed regret that I wouldn't be able to come. The sudden force of my desire to be there surprised me. I couldn't explain it away by the fact that I miss her and my other loved ones in the States. After all, I just saw them six months ago. I also knew that my response was not because I wanted to "be home for Christmas." I've lived in so many different places that if someone were to ask me where I considered to be home, I wouldn't know how to answer them. No, what I was missing and wanting so desperately was this Christmas atmosphere that I've been describing.
My husband and I decided to move our life to Ukraine, so by choice, this is home. Neither of us wants to be anywhere else for Christmas. But at the same time, I feel that Christmas doesn't really come to Kyiv. So what am I to do? I will work to make our home a place filled with enough Christmas atmosphere to give us all we need for the whole season. And since people are so central to the celebration of Christmas, I will fill our home with family and friends during this time. Maybe I'll even throw a Christmas party for our closest friends–who are all Ukrainians–and, despite the seeming cultural inappropriateness, work in many of the traditions that are so dear to me. This year, I'll be home for Christmas–much more than I ever dreamed!