How to Feel Like a Stranger in your Holiday Home
Many new updates ... were completed in the past.
I left the Midwest for the Pacific Northwest 17 years ago. But if I ever moved back to my Rust Belt hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, I’d probably live in a foursquare near downtown, where old houses are broad and sturdy.
During an unexpected trip to Fort Wayne for my grandmother’s funeral shortly before the pandemic, I visited places from my family’s past: The hospital where I was born, along with my dad and grandfather. The apartment building where my great grandmother Minnie lived. The old house where my dad grew up with its famously spooky attic. Hyde Brothers Books, Smokey’s Records, and the Army Surplus on Wells Street.
The ranch I grew up in looks smaller and in more disrepair each time I’m in town and drive past. It was foreclosed a few years ago. I wished the person who wrote the online listing was trying to be ironic when they wrote, “many new updates…were completed in the past.” It lists everything in the house, like an inventory if it was broken down and sold for parts: Toilet. Shower. Back patio. Pantry. Linen closet in hall.
I hadn’t been home for more than a day when a sense of claustrophobia set in. The feeling in my body was a stark contrast to the landscape around Fort Wayne — field on field. Driving to see friends an hour south of town, I brightened.
You can see for miles on a central Indiana highway. The landscape itself is familiar, and in its own way both comforting and unfamiliar: cut down corn on winter acres that stretch out on all sides, superconductor telephone poles radiating perilously close to farmhouses. We were expansive but landlocked. The air was cold and clean, with threads of electricity.
I started noticing Christmas trees and lights going up in my neighborhood the day after Halloween. Like someone hit the fast forward button. Toss out the decorative pumpkins and yank down the box with the knotty garland and the salt shakers that look like Christmas trees.
Whether or not you’ll be home over Thanksgiving or Christmas this year, wish you were home, or don’t have a home to return to, nostalgia seeps through the holidays. Even if it’s not for our own past. However home did or didn’t manifest in your childhood, and whatever church looked like in those years, there is a feeling attached. Maybe even a longing, for the place we inhabited when we were still moving into our own identities. The place that smelled like Mr. Clean and instant oatmeal.
For some of us, home is an embodiment of both nostalgia and grief. The choices we could have made. Our roots and heritage. What we leave behind with the leaving. The feeling that even though we’re long gone, we can’t quite shake free.
The holidays are a concentration of all kinds of dynamics around home — or its lacking. “I’ll be home for Christmas. You can plan on me” sounds absurd in the middle of our nation’s housing crisis.
Mary and Joseph were refugees, and Jesus was born in a humble place. But the family was also returning for the census to Joseph’s ancestral home. They were, in a sense, strangers in a homeland.
I wonder if Joseph experienced a sense of disorientation on the night Jesus was born. “Here is a familiar place where I was known.” Or maybe, “Here is an unexpected place where my young wife is having a child that is both mine and not mine.” Joseph both belonged and was a wanderer, he was at home and astray. He was somebody’s son and about to become a parent. A lot was ahead of Mary and Joseph, and their life with Jesus began in a known place, with whatever complexities and gifts were there for the taking.
The Christian story speaks less to nostalgia and more to a home-going: We’re told God is preparing a place for us. It’s forward-thinking, the Biblical idea of our forever home. It’s not a picture of wooden houses that break down over decades and grow back wild. Here, nostalgia becomes a longing for the place we know we’re going, but haven’t seen yet.
Read & Listen
Is Cozy Season a Cry For Help? Every year, I move into autumn-holiday-cozyville mode. But how the idea of cozy feeds off my introversion and affirms a certain aesthetic of middle-class #bestlifeever is a good call for self-reflection. There’s nothing wrong with “cozy” but something is off about the broader culture it reflects back and its commodification—how we present our festive reality and who accesses it—that gives me pause. I found some explanations in this piece from mompreneurship writer Kathryn Jezer-Morton.
“It kept happening, for months. Christ to the left of me, Christ to the right. It was unnerving. I turned away again and again, but every time I looked back, he was still there. I began to feel I was being . . . hunted?”
On Christian Reconstructionism and the Joshua Generation.
Phew. What a whopper. “If the divide roiling conservative American Christianity right now concerns the question, “when did America stop being a Christian nation?” it is because one side of that divide now thinks America never really was all that Christian to begin with.”
A welcome set of Songs for Advent from The Porter’s Gate.