Every holiday season, nostalgia finds a place in our hearts and minds. We will often think back to past Thanksgivings and Christmases, sometimes with fond but realistic memories, and other times jealous that our lives seemed so much more in order. Nostalgia, in fact, is derived from Greek, Latin and German words that mean homesick, but now nostalgia means an affectionate longing for the past. Although the meaning has changed slightly, I think homesickness and nostalgia are one in the same, and both affect the way a person approaches the present world.
In 1954 Perry Como sang “There’s no place like home for the holidays,” and while the general sentiment behind the phrase is agreeable, I question the exact meaning of the phrase and the multiple meanings it can take.
I had never moved before I came to college four years ago. But since then, my mom has remarried and I’ve changed houses. Even before physically moving, I was beginning to realize home is not just the physical space a person permanently lives, but an idea that lives within memories. The more good memories you have at a physical place or with another person, the more comfortable you will usually feel in that space or with that person.
For example, when you first get to college, everything is new and exciting, but you will most likely experience a feeling of homesickness and miss something from back home. There were times my freshman year of college where my experience of homesickness was crippling. I needed to find solitary moments to refresh, often at the expense of social interaction. In these moments, I tried to distract myself in order to avoid the full brunt of my emotions. I would listen to old music I was familiar with. I would play video games. I would watch movies I had seen multiple times. I did not realize then, but in those times I tried to distract myself from my feelings, I was really trying to hide myself from feeling. To remedy my homesickness, I should have sought out other people to create memories, but instead I tried to turn off my mind in order to keep my sense of security. Over time, college became a more comfortable space for me. I knew people and I was comfortable in the physical space. However, during this time of transition, everything seemed unstable, but rather than searching for stability, I found comfort in the instability. Although my physical sense of “home” had changed, I realized that a person can never find stability because life is constantly in flux.
Acknowledging the presence of instability is important, especially during the holiday season because there are people around you who have tough family situations. Maybe a person has lost a parent or grandparent, maybe his parents are going through divorce, or maybe her family does not understand her faith. The holiday season only emphasizes the hurt and pain of these situations. While everything might appear great on the surface, there is an underbelly to the holiday season. I remember how empty the first Christmas felt after my father died, and I know there are others who feel that same emptiness every year at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years, or who might have never experienced a “normal” holiday season.
However, the holidays are filled with constant distractions with sports, movies and music, but there is no greater distraction than Black Friday and Christmas. By Christmas, I mean the gift-giving side of Christmas, not the religious aspect. According to Statistic Brain, last year’s Black Friday spending was near $70 billion between online and in-store, which meant the average person spent around $400 dollars. While this spike in retail spending helps out businesses, as Christians it is important to question our involvement in the consumerism in American culture.
While many will pass around cliché sayings like “Jesus is the reason for the season,” our approach to Christmas seems relatively similar to that of the American culture. Instead of participating in American traditions around Christmas, Christians tend to replace those traditions with Christian traditions, Christian music, and Christian movies that focus on the importance of family, love, and kindness, but we are not acting any different than unbelievers. By filling our time with Christian holiday traditions, we are only distracting ourselves as well.
Hebrews 11 uses the words “strangers and exiles” to describe those who live by faith and says that the people who claim to be strangers and exiles on the earth are seeking “a homeland” that is not the land of their birth. While this passage is mainly discussing the physical denial of a homeland for the purpose of seeking a heavenly country, it is important to acknowledge the repercussions of what it means to deny your homeland. Applying Hebrews 11 to the scope of this essay, we must understand what it means to be “strangers and exiles” during a time of the year that feigns Christianity.
The trap that is perhaps easiest to fall into is to argue that we must reclaim Christmas, or even the culture at large. This argument, however, does not remedy the issues at hand, because we only make the solutions more “Christian.” We make “Christian” movies, “Christian” music, and “Christian” items, but the problems of distraction and consumerism still remain; we have only added to the problem.
Perhaps there is no one solution to the problems of consumerism and distraction that exists within the Christian community, but maybe there is not supposed to be a solution, only a response. The problem is not in the giving of gifts at Christmas, but the manner in which we give gifts. The problem is not that we listen to Christmas music, but how we use Christmas music and Christmas movies to distract us from the harsher realities of the holiday season. Maybe our issue is not that we spend so much money for gifts on Black Friday or that we are kinder during the holiday season, but that we are not as free and giving the rest of the year. Maybe our problem is not that we are nostalgic and homesick, but that we are nostalgic and homesick for the wrong home.
Adam Pittman is a Senior English Major and Just Sayin’ Columnist for Cedars. Among other things, he avidly enjoys reading, the outdoors, coffee, and soccer.