Gilbert Chesterton said that, “Christmas is built on a beautiful and intentional paradox — that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.” In an odd way, this restless longing to get home, or to find a place in the world to call home, is perhaps at the bottom of Christmas.
Robert Frost called home, “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” For those of us lucky to have such a place, or to have once experienced it, the connection runs deep, and stirs more acutely at the turning of the year than at any other time.
Novelist Michael Chabon, narrating the inner life of one his characters, observed that, “every so often he feels his heart catch, like a kite on a telephone wire, on something that seems to promise him a home in the world or a means of getting there.”
C.S. Lewis wrote about the desire to go home, reflecting that, “the sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing, to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing?”
Although it is seldom recalled now, Yuletide was not always the major feast we know today. By the late 1700s, it had fallen into near-obscurity — driven in part by the massive migration from Europe’s small towns and farmlands into major cities, spurred by the Industrial Revolution. It was in this context, of dislocation and rootlessness, that England’s master storyteller of the 1800s, Charles Dickens, “invented” the holiday (or more precisely, rediscovered it) with works like “A Christmas Carol” and half a dozen other, less-remembered sequels. In one of these, “The Christmas Tree,” he wrote, “I do come home for Christmas. We all do, or we all should, come home from where we are forever working, to take and give a rest.”
Chesterton, as if in reply, also said, “there are two ways of getting home, and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.”
In a city, in an era, populated by restless, weary souls who feel they have traveled worlds from where they began, and often can’t remember why, here’s wishing you, at least for these few days, a place that feels like home.
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