The countdown begins just as it always does, numbers scribbled in the corners of my calendar from late October to the 25th of December, but for the first time my anticipation is met with a wave of melancholy. This will be my 22nd Christmas on earth, but the first spent away from home. To put in the terms of today, it’s like I’m breaking a 21-year streak of Christmases in Mt. Lebanon (that’s 16 years longer than the life of the Snapchat itself). My circumstances aren’t sorrowful; my family and I have our health and our house is as homey as ever. I’m simply swapping out the seasons and going to experience the seasonal festivities Down Under.
While I recognize the fortune of my adventure and am excited beyond words to see a part of the world that is not my own, there’s something about the timing of Christmas that’s haunting my conscience. Perhaps I’m more traditionalist than I thought or maybe I’m more nervous about flying halfway around the world than I’d like to let on. Whatever the rhyme or reason, with reflection on my many years of Christmases in Mt. Lebanon, I’ve pinpointed some of the things I’ll miss most.
My sister and I grew up on Clokey Avenue learning to play the piano. We took lessons at the Pittsburgh Music Academy, and had an annual Christmas concert at PPG Place. Nearly 10 years of Christmas carols, gingerbread houses, and ice skating turned into an obligatory ritual. My family has also embraced the tradition of cutting down our own tree, so every year we venture to Hozack Farms for a tractor ride, frolic among the sea of trees (preferably with a fresh snowfall), a complimentary hot chocolate (complete with seasonally shaped marshmallows) and a not-quite-harmonized Christmas sing-along on the drive home.
It’s hard to deny the magic of Downtown when it’s decked out in seasonal cheer, or the appeal of a field of spruces and firs so close to the holidays, but there’s an equal amount of festive fun I’ll miss even closer to home. Whether it was the great snowstorm of 2010 which turned the hill outside my house into a sledable Mt. Everest or a hot chocolate to accompany the tree-lighting at Lebo Light Night, I have no shortage of fond, holiday memories. One of my most long-standing Lebo Christmas traditions is Beverly Bright Night. Having been a student of Lincoln Elementary School, I remember my initial astonishment seeing one of the busiest streets in town shut down for an evening of Santa, candy canes, and Christmas festivities—keep in mind that through the eyes of 6- year-old, Beverly Road is a bustling downtown metropolis where the cool, mature 10-year-olds roam free for pizza lunch. And of course, I was always enamored by the larger than life tree decorated with the ornaments my peers and I had made in art class. Today I am much older and a little wiser, but the magic of Bright Night still doesn’t escape me. I find it just as rewarding to partake in the festivities alongside my young neighbors, the next generation of Lincoln-goers.
It’s this very cyclical nature that makes Mt. Lebanon the community that it is. It’s neither monotonous nor mundane, for somehow I can experience these things year after year with the same sense of holiday enchantment. First, it was through my eyes, then my younger sister’s, and now it’s alongside my kid neighbors. The blissful cadence that comes from my neighbor gifting me a holiday tchotchke from the same Frosty Shop that I shopped more than 10 years ago, or the joy that comes from giving home baked Christmas cookies to former teachers, demonstrates a sense of community that I’ve only ever seen matched in a cinematically romanticized interpretation of a suburb. I don’t think I’m nervous about missing the magic of a white Christmas—although a bikini-clad Christmas in the dead heat of summer sounds scary foreign to me—but rather the magic of this community I’m lucky enough to call home.
In light of the Christmas spirit and my venture to a place that’s as far away from home as I’ve ever been, I pledge to not take all I have for granted. It’s a thing we all say and strive for—especially during the holiday season—but it’s all too easy to lose sight of what we have in the everyday. I’m fortunate to have grown up in a place where my best friend lives up the street; a place where my favorite babysitter who used to live next door still comes back to visit; a place where everyone on the block comes over for a summer potluck and a movie; a place where family stretches beyond biology. My absence this year can only be described as bittersweet, because I know when I do eventually come home, I’ll have a whole neighborhood eager to hear all of my stories. Plus, there’s always next year.