This is always a strange and fun time of year for me.

I will be going to my hometown to visit my family, all of whom will be flocking to one place. I will wake up with my brother, sister-in-law, cousin and cousin’s 3-year-old daughter. We will wake up my uncle and parents and celebrate Christmas in the traditional fashion: Glance longingly at the stockings, make cinnamon rolls and orange danishes, get coffee and orange juice, and once everyone has been herded into the living room start the gift-opening festivities. This is a routine crafted and reinforced over the years, and we are methodical about it. Each person is given a gift, each gift is opened in turn, and then someone distributes the next round. (This used to be my task, as the youngest, but I am training my cousin’s daughter as a replacement.) There are many breaks for eating, drinking and picture-taking.

In the evening I will be gathered for the slightly more chaotic celebrations. This takes place at an aunt’s house and includes my dad’s entire family. His five siblings and their spouses, their children (and children’s spouses/fiances/significant others and their children, where applicable), plus the dogs. People gathered from around the country, because it is something of a sin to miss this event – unless you are married and, alas, required to spend this sacred day with in-laws. This is the chaos of tiny cousins opening gifts of feather boas and dolls and shrieking and running around. (Ok, I admit it, that was years ago. Now they are probably opening purses and makeup and getting ready for their driving permits. Oh my.) The adults will wait for the noise to move into the basement and then create noise of our own as we do a white elephant exchange for the fun of it.

I love being with family, enjoying these silly and treasured traditions. I also love getting into town in time for the Christmas Eve service at my parents’ church. You would be hard-pressed to find me in a sanctuary any other time of year, but I do it this one night for the music and the drama. I enjoy that quiet moment at the end, standing in candlelight, alternating between German and English as I sing the harmony of a song I have loved since childhood.

And this year, I finally get to add one more item to my list of Christmas activities. Finally, after a year and a half of dancing tango, I get to dance in my hometown. I won’t get my hopes up – in a town that only has two milongas a month (and only most months), I know I won’t find a community as developed and large as my own. But I will enjoy it, if only because I will be coming home to dance. For that opportunity I can even start to forgive my own community for getting to see and dance with my favorite leader before I do. Because I will be home, even if it only feels like home those few days a year I get to be there.

And a few days later, I will be home again to bring in the new year with my other, newer family.