Christmas reflections

Jessica Flynn– Imagine coming home for Christmas and experiencing complete shock. I took a year off after high school and went to Costa Rica to attend a Bible college called TorchBearers. After four months of living in another culture, climate and community, coming home to America was probably the worst culture shock I have ever experienced.

It started at the airport. As I boarded the plane in Costa Rica, I embraced the warm humid climate knowing that the temperature in Arkansas will probably be much colder. After landing in Arkansas, walking through the airport was an awkward and unfamiliar experience all together. Everyone was speaking English! After spending four months in a Spanish speaking country, it was odd hearing the sound of my own language spoken in public. It was almost surreal I was in America again.

The sliding doors of the NWA regional airport opened causing a gust of stinging air to hit my face. The arctic weather of Northwest Arkansas was more intense than I had imagined, and I wasn’t properly dressed for it. As it turns out, I left the tropical paradise land of Costa Rica to spend Christmas in Arkansas during the 2008-2009 ice storm. Perfect.

Driving home, the sounds of cracking tree branches above kept us all on edge. We drove keeping our eyes on the icy roads below and unstable branches above. I reached my house safe and sound only to find Christmas lights and decorations galore. It was the first Christmas that I can remember spending in Arkansas. My family always travels for Christmas, and we hardly ever decorate because we are never home to enjoy it. This Christmas we were spending at home, and it was unusual to see my house so lit up with Christmas lights and Christmas color.

Normally, I spend Christmas in New Jersey surrounded with my family and friends. After coming from Costa Rica where every moment was spent with 30 people or more, and expecting to be surrounded with several members of my extended family, it was unusual to spend time with just my immediate family.

Although the culture shock hit me hard, it was the most relaxing Christmas in Arkansas I had ever experienced.

Olivia Rollene– For most students, Christmas break is a time to wind down and relax after a long and difficult semester. For me, I am barely making it through finals only to prepare for an even more insane Christmastime. This season is going to be one of a kind for the Rollene family. Jessica Rollene and Benjamin Dye are getting married.

Now, please do not get me wrong. I am thoroughly excited for the two of them, but I am also stressed about this break. It is definitely not going to be relaxing. Between working, painting a couple canvases for the wedding, and carving out time for friends, this will be the opposite of a “break.”

Because Jessie has been in Chicago at Physician’s Assistant school, the wedding has been planned from afar. This means that we have a lot of work left to do in just a couple weeks. Because of the wedding, it is not going to be our typical Christmas.

The Rollene family has never had any male in the house on Christmas Eve or day that is not family. This year is going to be another story. Christmas day the Dye family is going to join and help us to create new traditions. My family has four women and my dad while the Dye family has four men and Mrs. Dye. Our house will be filled with extra testosterone, and the ratio of male to female will finally be equal.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about this. I mean, of course I am excited and absolutely love them all, but I kind of liked being the dominant gender in the house. My dad is going to have a whole new support system, which although is great for him, it is going to take some getting used to for me. Females will no longer have the upper hand in our house, but I guess that is a small price to pay to have such a joy-filled holiday.

Because of the five extra people, I am sure everyone will be able to hear us talking, singing and laughing from miles away. In the midst of a stressful time, we will all be there to help and support each other. We all enjoy each other’s presence immensely. I probably will not be able to get a word in edge-wise, which if you know me that is very surprising. But I love to sit and observe everyone just being together. The wedding has brought two families together and created an even bigger family. Amidst the unusual and stressful Christmas, I will find so much happiness just because of the people I am spending it with.

I am beyond thankful that Jessie and Ben met almost four years ago. If not, I would not be able to look forward to this holiday with a new and bigger family.

Shelby Delay– Finals week. The week that is full of stress, the week that leads up to a much deserved break away from school, the week that students dread.

Usually I feel the same way. Usually by the time that finals week rolls around I am checked out from my classes, tired of projects and papers and ready to go home.

Except for finals week during the fall of 2011.

I was dreading finals week for a different reason. Not because it was packing in a lot of stress, but because it meant that I had to pack my bags and head back to The States after the best three months of my life.

Finals week in Ireland is a completely different experience. Sure—there were papers and projects due for each of the five classes I took—but that was it. It was over just as fast as I could write my 1000 words using the prompt given as a guideline.

My finals week was packed more with “one last time” experiences, study breaks down to City Centre and spending time with my 15 new friends, rather than cramming for tests.

But that’s what made it memorable.

As finals week approaches this fall, I am longing to be back on that island. I’m wishing to be back at Lakeside Manor hanging out with friends instead of studying for tests and putting together projects.

Ireland definitely yielded some of my greatest memories.

Memories that I am unable to accurately describe to someone who has never been. Memories that will last a lifetime.

Laura Bradshaw– Christmas is the best. Wait, let me rephrase that: Christmas with my family is the best. Every year, we meet in Lubbock, Texas to celebrate the holiday. We eat lots of food, listen to lots of Christmas music, and share a lot of laughs. I feel like I never stop smiling during Christmas break.

One particular Christmas however, I will never forget. I was in 8th grade. My family traveled the nine hour journey in our white suburban From Corpus Christi to Lubbock, and we were welcomed by ice on the ground. The festivities began, and of course, they were the best. And then, that moment on Christmas Eve came…My grandpa informed us that we were riding on a trolley around town to look at the Christmas lights. I couldn’t contain myself.

I heard the trolley bells ring as it pulled up to the house and I ran outside. Of course, my family had to take a billion pictures before actually getting on, which seemed to take hours. I stepped up the three trolley steps with the biggest smile on my face. The driver of the trolley had Christmas music playing. This was a dream come true!

As the trolley rolled around town, I waved at the people we passed by, sang Christmas songs at the top of my lungs, and beheld the beautiful sight of colorful Christmas lights. The cold air made my eyes water but I tried my hardest not to blink so I didn’t lose sight of those bright, fluorescent lights.

The night proceeded as did my smile. The joy inside of me seemed like it would last forever, and I hoped it would. As the trolley continued on, I indulged in warm hot chocolate, wrapping my hands around a white Styrofoam cup, trying to warm them up. However, the ride had to come to an end.

The trolley pulled into the driveway of my grandpa’s white house. We all stepped off and I waved goodbye to the trolley driver who sent us off with a big smile. The sight of the trolley disappeared at the end of the street. However, my smile lasted the rest of the night. As I crawled into my soft hotel bed, I was content. I tried to keep my eyes open so I could keep thinking about the glorious night, but they slowly fell shut.

I won’t disclose how often I daydream about going on a trolley ride around town to see the Christmas lights again, but I will say, you don’t have to ask me twice.

Abby Fennema– I was pregnant with anticipation. The excitement had grown with slow vigor over the previous three months. We had said our goodbyes in the Arkansas heat that made our skin glimmer. The leaves had transformed and drifted off the trees, the ground had grown cold and snow had fallen since that time. Separate memories had been made on my end and theirs. They had ventured around the foreign land, visiting places that most only read about and drinking far too much tea. My own semester had its stories of late night laughs and new friends. Our lives, which had been diverse the past the months, were now colliding back together.

The University’s study abroad program stole my two best friends for the semester. Yet, the time had come for them to return back to their roots. I squealed with pent up excitement as they stepped out of their car. Laughs and embraces were exchanged as we recounted over and over how fulfilling it was to finally talk face to face.

Bags filled their car. Their trek back to America came with much heavier bags than the venture abroad. Promised gifts were stuffed in between jackets, sweaters, pants and all the rest. They pulled out scarves, tea, snow globes and other treasures promised to those at home. Each gift pulled from the suitcases sparked excitement, I began to wonder which treasure belonged to my name. Many gifts had arisen, yet none were deemed mine. Her hand reached in the bag one last time, digging deep. As her fingers fumbled upon the object she was looking for a smile plastered upon her face. Reassuring words were announced, “This was our favorite gift.”

It was in the moment I should have known. I should have guessed that anything deemed “their favorite” would have a story. Beady black eyes surrounded by red-rimmed glasses surfaced from the abyss of the bag. The eyes belonged to some sort of creature that was indistinguishable. The body was round and made up of nylon. His black nose was the only part of his body which was not colored a creamy brown. Inside the nylon, seeds were stuffed. This pet they had retrieved for me at the Christmas market had a special power. He grew a plant out of his back. From the vast land of Ireland, my friends had brought home with them an Irish chia pet. Now this was not any chia pet, this foreign pet was a hedgehog with glasses. Among the exotic fashions and foods lay my new friend Henry.

Kelsey Gulliver– Christmas in England conjures idealistic images of snow-covered thatched cottages, figgy pudding and Charles Dickens. My holiday there last year proved equally idealistic, only not by such commercial standards.

For the first time in my life, I was able to spend this most sacred of holidays with my dad’s side of the family, the Gullivers.

The festivities and quality family time seemed endless—I never wanted it to end—and I still to this day remain thankful for my time in Horsham.

One of my favorite memories of that Christmas involves smoke, firepower and a magnificent spread of food. Not your typical Christmas dinner by any standards, the meal I shared with my parents, Uncle Robin, his friend Allen and my cousin Alex a few days before Dec. 25 is forever etched in my mind.

The six of us sat around the table, enjoying the general atmosphere and conversation of the quaint restaurant, when I excitedly declared that it was time to open our Christmas crackers. Christmas crackers, similar to the New Year’s poppers that we set off in the U.S., are a sort of miniature firework; however, instead of confetti, with a small toy or trinket and a paper crown.

Butterfly hair clips, miniature tic-tac-toe and keychain lip-glosses discovered, we placed the colorful crowns on our heads, giggling and capturing the moment with our cameras.

Courses of duck pate, delicate salads and a delicious Yorkshire pudding ensued. But the star of the show arrived at our table in smoke. The mincemeat pieces stayed hidden amongst the dry ice.

After the haze cleared, I delved into my favorite course: dessert. The sweetness of the pastry and filling mixed with the sweetness of the moment and made this memory so precious to me.

Sidney Van Wyk– Some of the best memories of my childhood involve Christmastime with my family. Decorating our house and my grandparent’s in the weeks before while we make cookies and other treats with Christmas music playing in the background. Then Christmas Eve service at the church I grew up in followed by a hot sandwich dinner with everyone on my mom’s side of the family. Putting cookies and milk out for Santa, carrots and oatmeal outside for the reindeer and cheese next to Santa’s cookies for the Santa Mouse (because of a book my family reads every year) then falling asleep listening for Santa. Lining up with my cousins outside the room Santa left our presents, jostling to be in the front knowing the youngest always went first. Sledding with my extended family before coming back to hot chocolate and treats. Sitting on the laps of adult family members while they read us stories. Gathering around my grandparents ancient computer to play Pac-Man on a green and white screen (I never got a turn because I was too little to push my boy cousins out of the way so I would entertain myself by annoying them). My entire family going to a movie theater even though we all knew Grandpa would fall asleep and snore and Grandma would probably think anything we went to was a little to violent. Singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus Christmas night with all of the lights in the house turned off so the only lights were from the Christmas decorations.

Aside from all of these little memories, the greatest part of Christmas was just how happy and warm and safe I felt with my family around me. Every time we all get together, no matter what time of year, my Grandpa would say a prayer of thanks because we were all together, safe and healthy, before praying for the families of his children’s spouses and other family friends, then thanking God for their safety as well and praying for those who were not. I didn’t realize how important this was until it was no longer true. My uncle is currently in hospice care in his home in Denver and is nearing the end of the two to three months his doctor told him he had left. I have no idea what this Christmas will look like but I know it won’t be the same and that my uncle, the person who first called me ‘Sidney-lou-who, who’s much more than two-who’, may not celebrate with us here on Earth.

Every single holiday memory, already special, has become precious to me and my family.