Home for the holidays

THERE is something about our choice of where to spend the holidays that makes a statement about us - that says where our home base really is, at least for this year. Family situations, the demands of work or school, and - not least of all - the question of who in the family can most easily accommodate visiting kinfolk all get factored into the decision on where to spend the holidays, whether the travel involves subway tokens or transcontinental airline reservations.

For many, holidays are spent in a ``hometown'' that is visited for only a few days each year but is still a useful point of reference in our lives. For others that ``home'' is where they live year round. In any case, Christmas is a time to appreciate the value of our local communities, which are evincing a new, clearer sense of identity and energy of late.

Small towns - their centers decked out now with Christmas lights and greenery - have been gaining new appreciation lately. They are not necessarily havens from the realities of a challenging world, but many young people, particularly, are seeing them once again as places where individuals can contribute and see the effects of their contributions.

The traditions of the town Christmas parade, the holiday bake sale, the school production of the ``Nutcracker'' ballet help tie a community together.

The resurgence of community is by no means confined to small towns. Even as the metropolises ooze into each other, and all the airports seem to have slashes in their names - you know, Seattle/Tacoma, Dallas/Forth Worth, etc. - the identities of neighborhoods within the cities are becoming clearer. To live in a major city today is to be aware of newly assertive neighborhood associations, prosperous community newspapers, even community Christmas trees at the neighborhood's main crossroads. And the sense of neighborhood is what the enclosed shopping mall is striving for - with whatever measure of success.

The local community - the hometown - is where the humble, home-grown, and authentic can triumph to some measure over the prefabricated, and mass-produced, and pretentious. However important the national networks that tie a country together - by television, by telephone, by air, by Interstate highway - the local human scale and the personal contact help weave our lives together: the old high-school buddy we bump into in the local emporium, the former neighbor who remembers us when. It is this human contact we find in the hometowns we struggle against, leave, and then, sooner or later, make our peace with - and come back to again and again.

Welcome home for the holidays. Wherever you are.

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