I’ve been living in Australia for almost six years. I still get homesick around the holidays.
This time it crept in and caught me by surprise. I thought I was coping well this year with the lack of gifts, decorations, or gatherings. But on Sunday I spoke with one of my best friends in Miami. She told me about Turning the Tide, a local Pagan festival that is put on by the community I belonged to. It recently took place for the 11th year. As she told me about it, I started to cry. I suddenly felt homesick. I missed everyone so much.
When I lived in Miami, I had a lot of traditions. My family observed all the major holidays. In the weeks leading up to Halloween, we’d go shopping for costumes, decorations, and candy. There were school dances, private parties, and, of course, trick-or-treating on the big night. The activities changed as I got older. Dance clubs, scary movies, and theme park horror nights replaced school dances and adolescent parties. I still went trick-or-treating, but now I watched from the sidewalk as my nieces and nephew knocked on our neighbour’s doors.
Although I have a few memories of Halloween as a child, I don’t remember Thanksgiving gatherings, and have only glimpses of Christmas. I suppose these were quiet times until I was about seven or eight. My sister met the man that became her husband and our two families merged. This is when my memories of the holidays really begin.
At Thanksgiving, our families gathered at my sister’s home for not-so-traditional dinner of roast turkey, white rice, and black beans. At Christmas, my mom’s decorating rivalled Santa’s Enchanted Forest, a local holiday theme park we visited every few years. On Christmas Eve, my family gathered again for Noche Buena, for a roast pork feast. Those were days before divorces and deaths, before children grew up and left, and the family was large, young, and carefree. The celebrations went late into the night with music and dancing.
Once in bed, I cracked open my bedroom door every few minutes trying to catch Santa Claus delivering the presents until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I woke up early on Christmas morning and, on seeing the presents under the tree, woke up everyone else. We spent Christmas day visiting family and exchanging gifts. In the early afternoon, we went to my godparents’ house, who every year opened her house for lunch – takeaway Chinese. And in the evening, we went to the home of my sister’s in-laws for leftovers of lechón and flan or pudín or pan.
We watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on Thanksgiving, A Charlie Brown Christmas and the Disney Christmas Day parades. New Year’s was a quieter affair spent with family, 12 grapes, bubbly, and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Joining the Pagan community only added to the joy of the season. In addition to traditional family gatherings, there were Samhain rituals, festivals, and Witches Balls, Turning the Tide, and winter solstice celebrations. More people, more festivities, more merriment.
These days, people are older. People have died. The music is not so loud. The nights are not so late. But they still gather.
I made enormous trades when I came to Australia. I left a past for a future. I’m happy with my loving partner, who I’m going to marry soon. I feel safe. I have access to excellent health care. Professionally, I’ve done well and worry less about my financial future. Those are all important things. But I don’t have family. I don’t have friends to drop everything and come to my rescue. I don’t have a spiritual community. I don’t have celebrations.
I draw strength from all those before me who share similar experiences. I’m not alone in feeling homesick, especially around the holidays. This is the story of history’s young brides who had to leave their homes, their villages, to join their new husbands. This is the story of my parents, who left their homeland and their families in Cuba to give my sister and I a better life. It’s a shared experience of refugees, immigrants, and expats.
It will pass. It always does.