Love is not a toy, and no paper will conceal it.
Love is simply joy that I’m home.
Sara Barielles, “Love Is Christmas”
“We’re writing letters to Santa today?” asked the eleventh graders, staring quizzically at the red and green papers I handed out on the last Friday before Christmas Break.
“No,” I replied. “Letters from Santa. You’re all grown up.”
They’d sprawled out on the floor, munching cookies and sipping milk, glancing now and then at the Christmas wish that I’d handed them, which had been scribbled out by a classmate just minutes before. At the end of class, I collected the letters, and began to read them aloud.
My students’ task: guess both the wisher and the “Santa” who replied.
Throughout the day, the activity–one I dreamed up late the night before–brought mostly laughter from the students. Few put down actual Christmas wishes, instead wishing for teddy bears, the ability to teleport, and a “unicorn crossed with a platypus.” The first letter in my last class, however, began with a serious wish.
“I just received your wish to go home to Canada for Christmas,” it began. Half a dozen pairs of eyes glanced at their one Canadian classmate, who smiled and sat up straight in her desk. The letter continued, explaining how Santa was sorry that he couldn’t give her a trip to Canada, but would “have to bring Christmas here to you in Germany with your family.” As I finished the letter–and my students immediately guessed its author correctly–tears sprang to my eyes as I saw the smile exchanged between my two students, the wisher and the granter of wishes.
This morning, I run around Greenlake, December fog so thick I can barely see the other side of the lake, and think about home. Or rather, think about what makes a place home. I’m back in Seattle at Christmas for the first time since 2010. Though the primary draw is our wedding ten days from now, it’s nice to be back here for the holidays, remembering the many Decembers I’ve spent here, each linked to rituals as bizarre as they are cherished.
I’ve been back to Seattle a few times since moving to Germany, but mostly in the summer, unarguably the glory days for the Pacific Northwest, when warmer temperatures and fewer rainclouds draw everyone outside to celebrate. December is a different story. I stand on the 40th floor of the Columbia Tower, hoping for views of Puget Sound and Lake Washington, and see a textured grey collage, with very few splashed of color to break the limited palette. This isn’t our prettiest time of year.
Still, it’s home. A home, one of a few. And as I think about homes, it reminds me of how I think about people, cherished friends and family, with whom I’ve cultivated relationship and history. How history builds up a balance of beauty that often outweighs the present, so that we forgive Decembers for their greyness, knowing that the warmth is indoors, and that’s what counts. Kandern is a sleepy village at the dead end of a bus line. Seattle is grey nine months of the year, with incomprehensible public transit and a widening gap between rich and poor. There are flaws everywhere, perfection nowhere.
And yet. People make these places home, people and the memories they bring. This is my fourth Christmas “away,” with two spent in Kandern and now two in Seattle. In both places, I’m blessed with relationships and history beyond what I could have ever imagined. Here, the warmth of family and church, friendships that stretch back to college and earlier. There, the richness of community abroad, the family that God has assembled from many places, all His children worshipping together. Both good, and both home.
So this lake, grey and lifeless, deserted on a Tuesday morning, remains lovely in my home-seeking eyes, still shining with memories of friends and conversation, of cross country practice and paddle-boats in summer. The balance of love in these places, my homes, can outlast the austerity of even the greyest winter. And for that, this Christmas season, I’m thankful.