Thursday, December 8, 2011

Opinion: Why I’ll Still Be “Home” for Christmas


By Rachel Bell
Gordon College News Service
December 8, 2011
(This editorial was published December 13, 2011, in the print and online editions of The Salem News.)

I learned who Bing Crosby was in 2005, during my first Christmas in America. Crosby’s bright smile and rich, deep voice floated out from my grandparents’ television as he sang, “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” My family had come from Zimbabwe to live in New Jersey for 10 months and I’d seen my first snow 30 days earlier on Thanksgiving morning. It was quite a change from the sunny, 70-degree December-weather I was used to. In Zimbabwe we don’t get snow and Christmas isn’t white, it’s wet. As children we always hoped for a rain-free day so we could go swimming with our cousins. Even now, grown up, living in Massachusetts and having experienced my share of New-England winters, it still feels surreal to be wrapped in sweaters and blankets, sipping tea and watching the white-coated world outside.

My feelings about Christmas are not the same as they were five years ago. For most of my life this holiday evolved around family, home and Jesus. December was a time of warm weather, stockings at the end of my bed, mince pies with cream, special church services and, of course, a huge family gathering of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. But our last few Christmases have seen dwindling numbers back home; Grampa is no longer with us and the cousins have been dispersed through several countries and colleges.

Christmas has changed. I’ve changed.

I’m starting to see an ironic twist in the carol “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”

The song was first released by Crosby in 1943 during World War II and it touched the hearts of soldiers and their families who were separated by the war. At that time everyone was hopeful that the end was in sight and all could go home. Today, with over 200,000 American military personnel currently deployed in foreign countries as of last June (according to the Department of Defense), many American families feel the same way.

However, it is not only soldiers that are separated from their families this December. About three percent of the world’s population – over 200 million people – currently lives outside their birth country, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Some of that three percent are international students (like me) studying far from home, staying on the campuses of colleges like Gordon, Salem State and Endicott. Others are fathers, brothers, daughters and mothers working in foreign countries worldwide to send money back to their families. We all won’t be home for Christmas.

I have discovered, though, that some of the things I miss most about Zimbabwe at Christmas can be found on the other side of the world too, right here at Gordon College. Family, home and Jesus are everywhere. I have been invited, welcomed and temporarily adopted by several faculty and staff members of the college. I have also discovered an eclectic family of internationals, students from Korea, the United Kingdom, Kenya and other places who, like me, are strangers in America and living at Gordon we have been able to find a home here, together. Most importantly, I have found people who have a similar heart for Jesus, who understand why December is so special to me.

So even without the hot weather I’m accustomed to and although I cannot go swimming with my cousins, Christmases away from Zimbabwe are not necessarily Christmases away from home because I seem to have found families all over the place.

Rachel Bell is a Pike Scholar at Gordon College in Wenham, MA, and a Fellow with the Gordon College News Service. She graduates in May 2012 and hopes someday to return to Zimbabwe as a journalist.

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