Christmas Nostalgia: A Yearning For Home
The epicentre of Christmas nostalgia. Our family Christmas tree, 2015 Jeffrey’s Bay edition.
I cannot remember a Christmas season in our world filled to the brim with fear and uncertainty, more than this current edition. From acts of violence and death striking too close to a former home in Southern California, to the tumultuous losses in the South African financial markets in recent weeks predicated by political moves elevating personal gain over the country’s best interests, to the deeply personal loss found in an ongoing struggle for my wife to become pregnant again this year, no “home” of mine seems immune to the senseless loss of life and fearful insecurity that has seemed to descend upon the world as 2015 limps to a close.
The nights seem dark; the days, a vague unease settling upon our world as a mist descends upon freshly shorn grass at dawn. I find my heart yearning for the comfort of childhood nostalgia this season of celebration has often brought in the past, a comfort of things long past: a favorite Christmas movie (Elf), carol lyric (“Long lay the world in sin and e’er pining, ’Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth”), or gathering of family and friends (Christmas carols with old camping friends) that ushers in this season of “good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). As I write these scattered thoughts, on the eve of Christmas eve, I find myself texting my oldest friends about poignant memories in our past, only increasing my yearning for home:
Ryan Ikeda: “It’s the eve of Christmas eve. Time for lemon heads, toilet paper, Glycerine (a Bush song) and Green Day’s Silent Night. Just watched a film called “The Night Before” and it made me sentimental. This new season in our lives (i.e. parenthood) is a beautiful turmoil, filled with varying degrees of change and stagnation; those three kids paddling their surfboards in a pool had no idea what lies ahead. Miss you guys.”
My Response: “I woke up to surf Supers (Super fun 4’ at Tubes) this morning thinking of you both and our epic night (I am guessing either ’95 or ’96 – Is this the 20th anniversary?) so long ago! So poetically true Ry – we had no idea the goodness, and the challenges, in store – such is life! It’s not Green Day, but enjoy the closest I could find as nostalgia washes over (Imagine the Jetta from 0:41on!): “Silent Night (Not So Silent)” by The Briggs).
Brian Penrose: “Two epic texts to wake up to today…The eve of Christmas eve. Anticipation of the anticipation. I think that was 1995. 20 years ago! Amazing. I just parked in front of your old apartment in Los Gatos, Ry. I walked down to Vasona Park to take Blake on the Christmas train and see the Vasona lights. Going to the SFC Christmas Eve service tomorrow night. So much history. Merry Christmas to you and yours, gentlemen. Miss you both. Hope you have a joyous holiday.”
As nostalgia is defined, as “a sentimental longing for wistful affection for a period in the past,” the Christmas season has no competition. From the familiar strains of carols written in the 1940’s to the 50th anniversary (!) airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV earlier this month, to the traditions unique to your own family, Christmas is awash in nostalgia, cherished openly. While losing one’s self in fond memories of the past can be a wonderful passage of time, I wonder if perhaps there is something deeper that nostalgia (in particular nostalgia during the Christmas season) is designed to evoke within our souls, in a “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7) call and response between God and humanity, One inviting another to come home again.
Digging deep into the origin of the word nostalgia, I find my answer, and it takes my breath away once again with hope that the Christmas season alone seems to bring: Nostalgia is derived from the Germanic word Heimweh, meaning ‘homesickness,’ which comes from the Greek work nostos (‘return home) + algos (‘pain’). Literally, nostalgia invokes the guttural longing – a pain we are designed to feel – that humanity experiences as we yearn to return to our true home in God alone.
Still catching my breath, I remember (Or the Spirit whispers to my mind) the wistful words the writer of Hebrews pens in chapter 11 of his letter to the Jewish followers of the Messiah Jesus, scattered in exile as strangers and aliens, and I know that these words are a reminder from God for this uncertain Christmas season:
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16, NIV)
May you embrace your longing to come home this Christmas season as an invitation from God to do just that – to return, even in the pain of the present moment, to your truest dwelling place. I am praying that your deepest desires are met in God alone as we celebrate once again God in the flesh, Immanuel, “God with us.”