By Sally Estes

Born and raised in the same town, unfamiliar just wasn’t in my blood. I grew up near grandparents and cousins and uncles, every festivity filled to the brim with people.

Christmas Eve was crowded, full of 20-something voices belting out carols around a piano and more food than anyone could possibly eat, though somehow we managed. Christmas morning meant Mama’s delicious breakfast and a reading of the Christmas story. Dad played both Santa and referee as my sisters and I surveyed our spoils. It was tradition, and every year I anticipated its precious predictability.

And yet here I was, a thousand miles from family, my first Christmas away from home. My house was quiet; my table, empty. No sheets to wash. No pies to bake. No crowd to feed. Christmas had always been loud and full of laughter. How could I possibly feel anything this year but heartbroken? I longed for familiar more fiercely than I could speak. I missed my family. I missed my home.

Hearing my quiet sobs, my little Jude, then two, climbed up beside me. “Mama, you sad?” For how could I possibly be sad during the happiest season of all?

“I’m missing my family, buddy,” I wept.

He paused, puzzled, before reaching his arm around me. “Mama, miss me?? Mama, I here!”

Like sunshine warming a winter frost, my heart finally awoke. The very things I longed for were right in front of me. Right here on this couch, nestled into my side, sat the sweet love I’d needed.

Before long we were making our own way, cultivating new traditions that would be ours alone. What had once overwhelmed me, instead filled me with life. Laughter replaced tears. Before I knew it, we were cranking up the carols for a dance party and singing at the top of our lungs. Our little home was suddenly full.

We piled into the minivan, travel mugs full of cocoa, and toured Lights Under Louisville in our pajamas. Dreading two weeks of desperately-inventive turkey leftovers, we grilled steak for Christmas Eve dinner instead. Wrapping presents late into the night, we custom-tailored Christmas morning breakfast to our easiest favorites (see our #1 below). Santa-dad handed out presents. I read aloud our favorite telling of the Christmas story. And Tim Allen’s The Santa Claus delivered the perfect backdrop for toy assembly and couch snuggles.

As the day closed, I took it all in. I was right where I belonged on this quiet Christmas morning. These are my kindred. This is my family. Suddenly, I was home.

Breakfast Bombs
My family’s Christmas favorite will soon be yours as well! Try this easy recipe at your next party, and you’re sure to please a crowd. Nearly fail-proof, this dish is breakfast perfection after a late night of wrapping presents, too!

1 lb of ground sausage
1 block of cream cheese
2 cans of crescent rolls

Preheat oven to 375°F. Brown sausage over medium heat until cooked through. Remove from heat and add cream cheese, stirring until thoroughly mixed. Line two cookie sheets with foil, laying out eight crescents on each pan. Fill each crescent with sausage mixture and roll into a crescent. Bake as directed. Serve warm and enjoy!

Gratitude is making peace with our losses, choosing instead to delight in what remains.

Do you live far away from your family? Have you ever been away from your family during the holidays? How do you cope?