Dream all you want of a white Christmas, but a white Friday-before-Christmas is the worst.
I’ve made it home for every single Christmas of my adulthood, but my nemesis has always been those last-minute storms that sneak up the moment finals are over or I wrap up that last assignment at work. Hence, my frequent checking of the latest weather as I write this on — what else — a Friday before Christmas when snow is expected. I’m supposed to head to my parents’ house in The Dalles after work.
Two of my brothers will be there. The third threw in the towel before even seeing a weather report this year. Last year it took him and his family three days to make it from Salt Lake City, in a journey that featured an overnight stay with relatives in Boise, several hours at a McDonald’s in Baker City and a night in a cheap motel in La Grande.
My own near-miss of Christmas happened in college, when snow and a broken de-icer closed the Portland airport. It took four days, two canceled flights and many hours standing in lines before I was finally able to get a standby seat on a flight to Pasco the afternoon before Christmas Eve. My dad and my brother drove straight from Portland to get me — they had been stranded there for days after they went to pick me up from my soon-to-be-canceled flight and the interstate closed behind them.
My luggage was missing, the Christmas shopping wasn’t done, we didn’t have time to make gingerbread houses and the family Christmas tree was looking a little worse for the wear after falling over at one point — but none of that mattered.
We were together. We were home. It was enough.
My heart aches for those who aren’t so lucky. The UN Refugee Agency estimated there were 65.6 million people worldwide that had been forcibly displaced from their homes by the end of 2016, and that number has only grown higher since. It’s an unprecedented amount, surpassing the number of people displaced by World War II.
More than half of the world’s refugees are children. Many have no idea whether their parents or siblings are alive. Some watched family members slaughtered in front of them, or fled as militants set their village on fire. Others are healing from injuries caused by bombs falling on their homes. Some escaped from being conscripted into service as a child soldier or a suicide bomber or a member of a brutal gang and live in fear they will be re-discovered and killed.
Closer to home, there are people in our own communities who don’t have a “home” to go to for Christmas Day. As we rush about fretting that Christmas will be “ruined” because the pie got burned or a package was stolen off our porch, these people are sleeping in cars and tents and warming stations and milling about Walmart to keep warm. Others have a roof over their heads but may struggle from a crushing sense of loneliness as they spend the holiday alone due to estrangement or the death of loved ones.
It is easy to remember all of those people in the days leading up to Christmas, when everywhere we look there are giving trees and red kettles and food drives and churches collecting for Operation Christmas Child. But what happens when Christmas is over? Do we remember the homeless and the lonely and the refugees in January? In February?
I may not have a “perfect” Christmas this year — I’ve got a cold, I’ll miss my adorable little nephew who won’t be there this year and snow might delay my hour and a half drive home. But I am humbled and grateful knowing that those complaints are nothing in comparison to the Christmas so many millions of people around the world are experiencing. Thinking about that makes it easy to think ahead to the next holiday, and make a New Year’s resolution that in the year to come I won’t need a holiday as an excuse to help those who are suffering.
Jade McDowell is a Hermiston-based reporter for the East Oregonian.