My father’s family is big and Italian and has deep roots in Chicago.
When I told them that I wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, I felt like I was committing an act of treason. My family staunchly holds to their unwavering holiday traditions; furthermore, I was going to throw off the entire Secret Santa gift exchange with my absence.
My family isn’t the only Chicago family that gets excited about the holidays: the entire city really outdoes itself from Thanksgiving to New Years. There are strings of lights on the trees lining the sidewalks, Macy’s puts up enormous decorations, people light up their balconies, windows, and – if they’re lucky enough – their front yards. There are wreaths hanging from the warm glow of the streetlights, the old hotels host Christmas teas, and the city is packed with tourists looking for events for which to dress up.
None of those things happen in Nome. There are no large stores trying to sell Christmas cheer to out-of-towners, the winter storms would absolutely decimate any outside holiday ornamentation, and it’s dark all the time, since the cost of electricity prohibits large light displays. I was feeling pretty gloomy in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.
But, as is often the case, what Nome lacks in decoration it makes up for in spirit. There have been so many community events over the past two weeks that it’s almost impossible to attend all of them; holiday bazaars, Kaatiluta to celebrate the finale of Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month, and a dessert auction to benefit the Nome-Beltz music program are only a few of the celebrations of the past few weeks.
This year is the first time I’m not going to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with my relatives, and I am so thankful for everyone in Nome that has embraced my fellow volunteers and me already this holiday season. If I were spending my first Christmas away from home in a big city, I might spend it alone despite the lights and wreaths. Thank you to those who invited us into their homes for Thanksgiving, to the generous donor who had a Christmas tree shipped to our house from Anchorage, and to everyone who wishes us happy holidays. We really, really appreciate it.