This is the third consecutive year that my family members have chosen not to exchange Christmas gifts. In 2010, we shifted away from this material side of the holiday in an effort to refocus on what we considered more important: spending time with and appreciating family and friends.
The year of 2012 marks another present-less Christmas, but also the first where none of my siblings made it home to our parents in New York. I stayed in New Orleans, Louisiana with my sister, Julie, while my brother continued his world adventures in Christchurch, New Zealand.
So, going into this Christmas I wondered, what happens when we not only avoid the present exchange, but cannot experience quality time with family either?
Anyone who has spent time with me this past month has heard about my struggles of returning to the United States from Rwanda. With periods of confusion, insecurity, restlessness and anxiety over simple daily routines, the symptoms of reverse culture shock have hit me harder and in different ways than expected.
This was part of the reason I did not make it home for the holidays this year. I found myself paralyzed in my own state of being – struggling to process and understand my past three months and my current moments, never mind planning anything for the future. I spent the autumn season in Africa only to return to 75-degree heat and tornado warnings of New Orleans in December.
Book a flight home for Christmas? I could barely comprehend my current placement in the world let alone fly across a country again.
In the one month I’ve been back stateside, I finished my class work, received my Master’s Degree, searched for, interviewed for, waited for and received a job, reconnected with friends, flew through three African countries and three U.S. states, and tried connecting pieces of a confusing, but lovely romantic relationship.
I have been overwhelmed to say the least.
But, this Christmas reminded me of the values I discovered in Rwanda. Not having close family and friends around – sometimes not even a cheap phone call away – sparked a new appreciation for those I love…and those who love me. While overseas, I craved spending physical time with those I missed, but valued more than anything the email response of a supportive friend during my toughest days.
I have not written a blog post in three weeks, mostly because my head has been in more places than what I could focus into concise words. But, the theme of what I intended to write has stayed consistent: I wanted to close out my trip from Africa and somehow convey how deeply I appreciate those I returned to in the U.S.
So, Christmas did bring me a present this year. It reminded me once again that there are few things greater than those unbreakable relationships we hold with family and friends. And, this year, as I stare at the white lights and candy canes on our Charlie Brown Christmas tree, I am thankful that no matter where I am in the world, I always have loved ones waiting for me back home.