Friday, December 01, 2017

Christmas Away from Home by Eleanor Shepherd


       
 While we had many wonderful experiences living in Europe, the time when we found it most difficult to be away from our home in Canada was at Christmas. It is then that the traditions that have become so much a part of your life define your activities and expectations. However, when those around you do not share these, other than members of your immediate family, you have a sense of being out of sync with the season.

            A couple of incidents come to mind that brought this to our attention. One was when we accompanied the French National Band of l’Armee du Salut (The Salvation Army) to the American Cathedral on Christmas Sunday. For the Americans the international Salvation Army tradition of putting money in the large red pot to help with the work of providing for the needy, was a familiar part of their Christmas activities. They also associated this with the martial music of the brass band. Thus came the invitation to the Salvation Army Band to participate at the Cathedral on Christmas Sunday.


            As we filed into the Cathedral, and heard the organ rumbling out the familiar carols and heard the words of them in our own language (English), the tears sprang unbidden to our eyes. Memories of years of singing these carols on snowy December streets in many cities in Canada flooded our minds. The only place that we had seen snow in France was when we visited the mountains in the massif centrale.

            Not only were we stimulated by the sounds of Christmas, but our memories of our life far away were further heightened by the sights of the familiar decorations, with the twinkling lights on the Christmas trees, the poinsettias and the pine boughs that decorated the sanctuary. It was not that we did not see some of the same Christmas symbols in Paris, but it was the way they were displayed in the church that looked so much like home.
           
            The longing to be gathered together with family and long-time friends who shared our traditions rose from our hearts to our throats and choked us with a sense of homesickness. My husband crept out of the sanctuary into the vestibule lest anyone see the tears streaming down his cheeks. We decided that morning that if we were going to survive Christmases away from home, we would have to avoid places like this.

         
   Another incident that brought to mind our isolation from our familiar surroundings at Christmas was the occasion when my daughter asked me if I would take her to the indoor skating rink. Some of her friends from the lycee were going to the arena in Le Vesinet and she wanted to go with them. It was possible to rent skates there. I agreed. However, I was not prepared for the shock of the odour that nearly knocked me over, as I opened the door to the arena. I could smell the snow and ice and like a giant wave the homesickness nearly bowled me over. All I could think of this smells like home in the winter and I wanted to be there!


            
With this longing for home, you can appreciate the wonderful distraction it was for us to be able to do something for the family in difficult circumstances, following the request that we received that I wrote about in Christmas with Hot Apple Cider. Other Christmas activities were serving meals to hungry homeless people on the streets of Paris that continued all winter long and serving at a banquet for all those in need that was hosted at the Palais de la Femme every year on Christmas Eve. In the season when our longing for home was the strongest we had opportunities to grow hearts that were attuned to the needs of others.
I Knew You Would Come
Word Guild Award
2009
Word Guild Award
         2011            

2 comments:

Peter Black said...

Oh yes, Eleanor, 'tis the season for sweet memories and reminiscing on Christmases past. Thank you for sharing your family's experience of Christmas longings for home. It was lovely that you had those opportunities to gain some of that Canadian / North American feel during your time in Europe. ~~+~~

Glynis said...

Sometimes when things aren't as we think they should be it gives us a new appreciation for our own norms. I am sure in your sadness and longings, you blessed others mightily. Maybe different for you and your family, but you gained so much during that time, by the sound of it. You've made me think about the preciousness of 'being home' with my family. Merry Christmas, Eleanor.

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