Monday, December 17, 2012

I'll Be Home for Christmas...If Only in My Dreams

           The Christmas season has always been my favorite time of the year.  Who doesn’t love Christmas carols, the holiday parties, the cheery decorations, peppermint and gingerbread, twinkling Christmas lights, and the smell of a Christmas tree? My family has so many traditions surrounding Christmas: my Mom going into a baking storm, picking out and putting up the tree right after Thanksgiving, the annual Brosnihan Christmas party, caroling with my cousins, and celebrating three Christmases: with my Dad’s family on Christmas Eve, my Mom’s family, and just our nuclear family. When I was little, I would cry after Christmas was over, because it would be another 364 days till we could celebrate it again.
The Brosnihan Family Christmas Tree
This has been the strangest Christmas season for me in my whole life. Here in Rwanda, there’s no drop in temperature to tell me Christmas is on its way. No one in my village has ever seen snow before, and I feel like a crazy person trying to describe building snowmen and going sledding. There are no candy canes or gingerbread to be eaten, and no Christmas trees to be decorated. There are no radio stations blasting my favorite Christmas songs 24-7.  I asked my co-workers at the Health Center what they’re doing for Christmas, but inevitably the question was met with a shrug and an answer like, “Just going to Church." I asked the nuns if Rwandans had anything like Santa Claus or Pere Noel, any kind of jolly figure who gives presents to children. They exchanged glances and one of the sisters said that Rwanda is too poor for Santa Claus and that he only goes to rich countries. The only thing that is any aberration from ordinary time is that the priest wears different colored garments for Advent.

There won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime
Despite my intense Christmas enthusiasm, I used to roll my eyes every time stores would put up Christmas decorations earlier and earlier each year (currently somewhere around the 4th of July). I would write-off some of the holiday hoopla as excessive and consumeristic (blow-up lawn Santas and snowmen, I’m talking to you). But I have to say; I miss not having any of it. I would gladly eat my words for every time I criticized someone for playing Christmas tunes before Thanksgiving if I could have just a little of that Christmas cheer over here.
A White Christmas in Omaha, Nebraska
But more than the decorations or tasty food or blinding holiday light displays, Christmas has always been about being with my family. Year after year, all six members of the Brosnihan Bunch would be home from the corners of the globe to enjoy my Mom’s fabulous baking, watch some really embarrassing old home videos, get buff arms from shoveling ourselves out of the inevitable snowpocalypse, and walk together to St. Cecilia’s Cathedral for Christmas mass. This will be my first Christmas away from home, and also the longest time I’ve been continually outside of the U.S. (going on 8 months!). I’m sure some of the homesickness will be abated by the fact that I’ll be on the tropical island of Zanzibar with some of my Peace Corps friends for Christmas and New Years. But right now I think I’ll make myself a cup of tea, watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and try to get into the Christmas spirit. If you’re home for Christmas, give your loved ones an extra hug. They’re far more irreplaceable and valuable than all of the holiday decorations combined. 


  1. Claire, this is my third Christmas away from home and the second in Africa, so I get it. I've never been a huge fan of all the Christmas hoopla, but being far from family for the holidays really does put their importance into perspective. Hope it's not too hard for you. Have a happy, sunny Christmas. =]

  2. Aww thanks Claudia!! You too :)

  3. Love reading your updates! We hesitate to tell you that last night we had our first snowstorm of the season. It is here with a vengance! They said on tv this morning that 42,000 people in Omaha area are without power. There was actually thunder snow last night. Lightening and thunder mixed in with the snowfall. That's unusual. Blowing snow everywhere. Your dad was late for work, which has to be the first time in his life! He can trek through a blizzard with no fear usually. Know that Christmas without your family goes two ways. They miss you as much as you miss them. But, we know that what you are doing for Rwandans is a great gift to the people there. I'm sure that many agree with me when I say how proud we are of you on your journey in Rwanda. Have a Blessed Christmas with your new "family".
    Gail (and the crew here at your dad's Office.)

  4. As for Christmas, Dr Seuss once said,"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."