Home for the holidays

Author: Sarah Cahalan '14

Christmas is in five days, and I’m not sure yet when I’ll get home.


HolidaytravelPhoto via Shutterstock

For my first post-Notre Dame Christmas, I made it home on December 26, fresh off a plane from Dublin after a day of Masses at the parish where I spent the year volunteering. The next year, it was December 23, back for a 10-day break from an internship in Denver. The evidence of my travels still sits in my email archives, confirmations from Aer Lingus and Southwest of trips taken across oceans and flyover states to make it home for the holidays.


This year, there is no flight. There’s no plan at all. I’m back at Notre Dame now, and home — my parents and grandparents and all of our Christmas traditions — is an hour and a half down U.S. 31. I’ll go home whenever I get around to it.


A few months ago, I would never have guessed I’d be driving home for Christmas. In fact, this year’s holiday flight — from New Hampshire, December 22, MHT → BWI → IND — was already booked. But life is full of surprises.


A native Midwesterner turned fervent Midwest-hater, I assumed when I began job hunting this summer that I would end up on the East Coast, within a few hours of where I was then living. Perhaps, if I were lucky, I’d head back to Europe or to some cool city out west, to Austin or Seattle. It could be anywhere except home.


It wasn’t that I refused the Midwest for no reason; it’s just that I’m a magazine journalist, and the Midwest wouldn’t have opportunities for that.


But then it did.


In October, I took a new job as an associate editor here at Notre Dame Magazine. The offer had been too good to pass up, and indeed, almost too good to be true. A magazine job, with real responsibilities and far-flung, exciting assignments, just a few miles from my entire family? That might not happen again.


I arrived in South Bend excited for the new job but with my anti-Midwest bravado shattered around me like discarded armor. I was the independent globe-trotter, the girl whose friends had to ask every few months, “Where are you living these days?” and now, at 25, I was back in Indiana. On the first night in my new apartment, I curled up on the floor beside an air mattress I couldn’t figure out how to inflate, and I cried.


By the light of day, though, things quickly, overwhelmingly, inevitably got better. I shipped off for my first work assignment just weeks into the job, and, outside the office, celebrated birthdays with friends in the Law School and saw my grandparents more in a month than I had in a year. I went to Folk Choir Mass — my old haunt for countless Sundays as a member of the group in undergrad — and ran into former professors in the library and at tailgates. After three years proudly and stubbornly bouncing around the world on my own, I was surrounded by people who loved me — and I loved it.


Bj 12The author at her desk. —Photo by Barbara Johnston

Last weekend I found myself in Chicago, a city that has long drawn my ire as a place where Notre Dame grads go to hang out with the same people they’ve always hung out with. On a hot-pink couch in Lincoln Park, I cackled my way through A Christmas Prince, Netflix’s newest cheesy delight, with one of my best friends. I spent an almost-all-nighter dancing and gossiping and singing karaoke with people I hadn’t seen since graduation, and over a slice of 4 a.m. pizza, it hit me: There are worse things than occasionally reliving your glory days.


Sometime this weekend, I’ll head home to spend Christmas with my family. We’ll eat the same thing we eat every year, and on the 26th we’ll visit the same houses we visit every day after Christmas on our annual rounds of caroling.


It won’t be exotic, but it will be wonderful.


And when it’s time to be the stubborn globe-trotter again, the big, exotic, wonderful world will be out there, waiting to welcome me back.


Sarah Cahalan is an associate editor of this magazine.