Every year around this time in December I experience a longing for home. Well, I have a home, of course, a beautiful one I share with my husband and two adult twins. I’m talking about the nostalgic idea of my former home in another country—Germany. A long time ago I left to start a life in the U.S., but still consider Germany my other home.
Typically I visit there around this time of year, so I can heal my homesickness. This winter I’m not going because I’ve got too much to do. Instead I’m trying to figure out what this thing, homesickness, really is and how to combat it. Because I know in my rational mind that what I’m missing is for the most part not in existence anymore. I miss things I remember from long ago: the feel of my house around Christmas time, visiting my grandparents upstairs and across town, eating Lebkuchen, the smells of fresh-baked bread and cookies, the Advent calendar with chocolate treats behind each door, Solingen, my hometown, decked in lights, trees and red bows and of course, lots of music.
When I visit home now, much has changed. My grandparents have long passed. My mother has been gone for ten years, the house I grew up in, empty except for my elderly father. I can count myself lucky to still be able to visit the same place I grew up in. Many of us have no places to return to, our homes gone for one reason or another. Some people cannot return to the place they grew up in. I once spoke to a woman who lived in a village in Poland that no longer exists today. How hard it must be to have no home, no place left to identify with. My hometown has changed so much, it’s hardly recognizable. Many buildings have disappeared, there is a new American style mall, many of the retailers have vanished and made room for dollar stores.
On a rational level I know that no matter how I try, I cannot recapture that feeling of home even when I visit. Because I was different then and the people who made it possible are gone. What I have done every year since is to instate traditions similar to those I grew up with. Everything from ornaments to candles to chocolate, the way we celebrate Christmas Eve with music and dinner, the imported German cookies and chocolates we enjoy as a family. I find myself searching for ways to heal my longing heart (sorry, sounds like a cheap romance story), listen to old German Christmas songs. I light candles and look at photos.
Soon it will be time to snap out of it, get busy with life and writing. Work has always been the best distraction. And I remind myself that change is a good thing, that it is healthy and that life consists of change.
Just like a good story.