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When You Don’t “Go Back” – Thoughts On An East Coast Transplant’s First California Christmas

December 31, 2009

When you’re an east coast transplant who moves west, you reach an inflection point where the word “back,” at least as a form of direction, takes on a whole new meaning. For the first year, when you travel to Boston or New York or wherever you’re from, you tell people, “I’m heading back east for the holidays.”

To you, the west coast remains an abstract thing. It doesn’t quite seem real that you live here. For me, San Francisco was too bombastic in its beauty; too overwhelming. For many of us, it’s so surreal — you almost feel as if you’re on a super long vacation, a vacation where you also happen to work and rent an apartment in the process.

And I think many transplants live in that state of being until they have a major event where they don’t go back. And that event, for many, I think is the holiday season.

For me, the decision to stay wasn’t easy. Like many east coasters, I attach a great deal of sentimental value to the holiday season. While family is central in the decision to “go back,” I don’t believe that’s the only reason for our attachment. I think it’s more visceral and emotional than just the people; we enjoy the idea of the holidays in the nostalgic model laid out for us in movies and literature. This is especially true in the northeast, where those images are encapsulated so strongly. A White Christmas. The comfort of a warm house shielding you from frigid air.

But despite the absence of a wintry landscape, I discovered a Christmas in California can be just as meaningful and festive. It also forced me to reimagine the holiday in a new image. For me, that meant living in the moment and trying something new in my new home, rather than spending my time trying to align the time and place with a holiday of the past. I was fortunate enough to spend an incredible weekend in Sonoma county with my brother Adam (@adamjustinlynch), my sister-in-law, and her family, who have really embraced me as one of their own since I moved here a year and a half ago. I was blessed to eat and drink like a king throughout the entire weekend, and I had an incredible time.

By staying home, this isn’t to say I didn’t miss my east coast friends and family — I miss them terribly everyday and mark their visits here and my visits there brightly on the calendar. I especially missed my parents, who were in Maine for Christmas. They gave me truly special Christmases as a child, and  provide me with more support and encouragement everyday than I could ever hope for, and I thought of them throughout much of the day. (But that blow was softened a lot by the fact they’ll be visiting California in February!). 🙂

This Christmas was different. Not necessarily better or worse than past Christmases, but different. I ran through a park in Sonoma that looked over vineyards instead of running next to the icy (but beautiful and raw) Atlantic; I ate California crab instead of a staple honey glazed ham we had in the New Englander Lynch household. This is not to say one of these is better than the other. In fact, they’re both wonderful in their own ways. It was just different. And new.

So my advice to my fellow east-coasters turned westerners: Stay here for the holidays one year to make your living here truly real. Some of you will have it way harder than me. I’m spoiled by the fact I have family on both coasts. But just like your scary decision to move nearly 3,000 miles, make that jump one year and don’t go back; stay home to discover if this is, in fact, home.

You might find it to be a very rewarding decision. I know I did.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Maggie permalink
    December 31, 2009 9:09 pm

    I enjoyed reading this. It takes … maturity? courage? willpower?… not sure which, but it takes something to make the decision not to ‘go back’ – it’s hard for me to simply stay in Massachusetts for Christmas instead of returning to New Jersey to be with my parents. For the last two years, I say I’m going to stay here and I always chicken out a few days before the holiday and floor it 250 miles south.

    I admire the way you welcome change and new adventures.

    I hope you had a great holiday and will have a wonderful new year!

  2. Geoff - the Dad permalink
    December 31, 2009 10:49 pm

    Thank you for the kind words about our Christmases past…although we love it here on the east coast…and miss our boys…we also rest easy knowing you have a strong family connection on the west coast…new holiday experiences make for lasting memories…see you in a few weeks!!!

  3. sarahdenman permalink
    January 19, 2010 12:06 am

    it’s always hard for me to stay in the US over the holidays, too – but it is very different (and magical) to have a white Christmas 🙂 Also, it’s a different feeling when you have your own little ones, and have your own Christmas rituals… it is very much like being a grown up, even though having a toddler in the house takes you back to when you were a little one and DYING for Santa to arrive!

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