Home for the Holidays


People generally want to go home for the holidays. We even sing “I’ll be home for Christmas.” Being at home with loved ones and repeating family traditions is what makes Christmas special. A few years ago, however, I learned that when you are with those people you love, you can feel that you are home for Christmas anywhere.

In December of 1981 I was in the Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City for brain surgery. The operation was scheduled for December 10 so I’d be well enough to go home before Christmas. Things didn’t turn out to be so simple. The operation lasted 14 hours, and within the next two weeks my right lung collapsed twice; so I was obviously in no condition to go home when Christmas rolled around.

Christmas in the hospital? It was not a pleasing thought for me. In fact, I became quite depressed. How could I enjoy Christmas in this situation?

A traditional Christmas at our house starts on Christmas Eve. Last minute tasks have already been taken care of because Christmas Eve is as special as the next day. It’s the time for our Christmas Eve program of songs, stories, and presentations. The last part of the program is always the reading of the Christmas story from the Bible by my mother. Then just before bed, everyone is allowed to open one present from under the tree.

Christmas morning we all get up together to see what Santa Claus has brought. Then one by one we go through the stockings stuffed with surprises. Next, all the presents are passed out, and we take turns opening each gift. These are the basic traditions that make Christmas memorable to me.

But that year in the hospital there were no presents under a tree, no stockings on the fireplace, and no piano to sing songs around. There were just a few decorations strung around the room between the machines and tubes hooked to my body, and the small Christmas tree my grandma had sent. While I was wondering what kind of a Christmas it was going to be, my family was making plans, and they were able to get me excited for the occasion even in my bleak circumstance.

I’ll bet there are few people who can say that they’ve held a family Christmas Eve program in a semi-intensive care hospital room. It may have been the shortest program in history, but we still had one. My sister, who knows three chords on the guitar, even brought her instrument to play some carols. My mother read the Christmas story as beautifully as ever.

Christmas morning Santa Claus not only came, but he awoke me personally with a large box filled with candy, games, and a homemade doll. After my morning routine with the nurses, my family arrived. They hauled all of the family’s presents up to my room, and passed out the gifts. One by one we went around the circle opening all the packages.

Because of my family’s love and our traditions, it turned out to be a wonderful Christmas after all and one of my most memorable as well. Surely, if you can succeed in making yourself feel at home for Christmas in the hospital, you can find a way to be at home for the holidays anywhere.

Since this article was written, Karen has passed away.

[illustration] Illustrated by Bryan Lee Shaw