Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - January 1, 2016

Hiraeth - all hearts go home for Christmas

Not much deters husband Art from going to Wisconsin between Christmas and New Year's every year. But early this week, "Winter Storm Goliath" was predicted to be a doozy, spreading ice and snow along our path from Kansas to his home state. It didn't live up to expectations, but we decided to delay our trip by two days. That wait gave me time to reflect on what it means to go home for Christmas.

Niece Larisa and boyfriend Keenan arrived at her home in La Paz, Bolivia on Dec. 22. She took a picture of the snow-covered Andes and posted the photo on Facebook with a single word:


It's hard to deny the power of home.

Mom was in a rehabilitation facility after a fall shortly after Thanksgiving. But she wanted to celebrate the holiday in her own home. As soon as she arrived on Dec. 23, she settled into her favorite chair with her cat Oreo nestled beside her. She immediately began signing and addressing Christmas cards for family and friends and asked me to stamp and mail them.

Art, our daughters Mariya and Katie, Mariya's girlfriend Miriam, Mom's friend Stan and I had Christmas Eve dinner in Mom's home. Art had prepared beef roast with carrots, onions and potatoes.

Miriam's roots are in Mexico, so she brought tamales, a traditional Mexican Christmas food. While they said "home" to her, they also spoke of home to another of us.

"Ah, these take me back to my days in Chicago," said Stan. He then told us about a man who would come to the neighborhood where he grew up and sell tamales from his cart during the holiday season.

We had Mom and Stan open a few gifts, which included Dala horse mugs, lingonberry jam and ginger snaps - all associated with Mom's Swedish roots.

One of Katie's gifts to her dad were homemade pfeffernuss cookies. They are a favorite with him and Katie used Art's mother Donna's recipe. They were also one of Donna's favorites. I cannot count the number of times she cautioned that they had to be made with lard ... not with some modern substitute. And that recipe? It had come from her mother.

When Art's grandkids were young, we used to drive to Kansas City on Christmas Day. He didn't want his daughter to have to make a meal, so we'd eat at the only restaurant we could find open - a local Chinese buffet. We now get together with the grandkids after Christmas, but we still eat supper at a local Chinese restaurant on Christmas evening.

After our Chinese meal this year, we took mom some food and opened a few more gifts. One I gave her was a potholder loom to remind her of her father Nels, who made enough potholders that all of us still have enough to last through our lifetimes.

Mom's sister Edith decorated her place with the traditional wooden Swedish Christmas candelabra that belonged to their parents.

When sister Gaila was in Kansas last summer, we went through Mom's old art work. Mom had painted and drawn with oils, acrylics, chalk, colored pencils, watercolors and pen-and-ink throughout her lifetime. She even took correspondence courses in the early 1950s. Each of her grandkids has artistic ability - Paul's a landscape architect, Michael has a graphic design business, Mariya's undergraduate degree is in art, and Katie, Gabriela and Larisa all have drawing talents. So Gaila and I thought it would be fun to "match" a piece of her art to each of us kids and her six grandchildren and have them framed for Christmas. All proved to be a hit.

All of these events and gift choices were driven by a sort of urge to "go home," an urge that looms particularly large at Christmas. But it is an urge or need that is not just about a place. Friend Joyce recently posted the following on Facebook:

hiraeth: (n) a homesickness for a home to which you can't return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

It is a Welsh word pronounced HEER-eyeth with a rolled "r." When I searched on the Internet for the word, I found the following description on spiritualmemoirs101.blogspot.com:

We English speakers don't have a good word to describe hiraeth, but that has not stopped us from trying to pin it down ... According to Smith College, it often translates as "homesickness," but the actual concept is far more complex. It incorporates an aspect of impossibility: the pining for a home, a person, [or] a figure.

The University of Wales says hiraeth can include "a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness."

It has to do with a strong attachment to a home-like place and a hankering to return to it. Hiraeth is the ache, the longing, the restlessness, the vacuum that demands to be filled. It is something bigger than ourselves. It lives in our blood and pulses through our veins. It buzzes, it flows, it shouts, it whispers. It calls our names: we recognize the voice, and it tells us that place is where we belong, that place, where our roots go down deeper than our own roots. That is our home of homes.

I think hiraeth is something we have all experienced - especially at Christmas.

Left: Niece Larisa and boyfriend Keenan with the Andes mountains in the distance; upper-right: niece Larisa, sister Gaila, Gaila's husband Humberto and niece Gabriela in their home in Bolivia holding pieces of mom's artwork; lower-right: nephew Michael's wife Kristina, Dave's son Michael, brother Dave's wife Linda, Dave, Dave's son Paul and Paul's wife Rachel holding pieces of mom's artwork at our Christmas celebration in Manhattan.

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