‘Home’ is where you are at Christmastime

Staff Writer
Story City Herald

—by Bill Haglund

Folks living along the west coast of Norway are quite familiar with the ever-changing temperament of the North Sea. Most Iowans, I feel certain to say, are not.

Not only does the North Sea provide bountiful harvests of fish that not only feed the local population, but are shipped around the world, the waters also are a basic mode of transportation. That is even truer for those living between Stavanger and Bergen.

With countless Fjords jutting inland amid the mountainous terrain, there is very little land travel available in that part of the world. My wife, Judy, and I found ourselves sailing the North Sea on a Catamaran twice as the final days of 1999 were erased from the calendar. Traveling through Germany, Sweden and Norway with a Eurail Pass, our journey ended at Stavanger on the southern tip of Norway.

There we boarded the Catamaran, which took us to Judy’s old world relatives in Haugesund, roughly located between Stavanger and Bergen. The trip, more than an hour, took us there on Dec. 21 and took us back on Dec. 23. During the first leg of the trip, the North Sea gave us smooth, comfortable sailing. Two days later, however, we saw the angry side of the sea and the hour-long trip seemed more like an all-day journey as we were tossed around in the twin-hull fast boat.

We had no choice but to travel on that day – Dec. 23. The next must-stop on our winter odyssey was the following day with friends Manfred and Uschi Lachner in Nuremberg, Germany. There we would spend Christmas Eve and Christmas.

We had first traveled by train to meet my second cousin, Birgitta (her mother was a Haglund), her husband, Lars, and their family in the Swedish province of Dalarna (Americans call it Dalacarlia) from which my grandfather emigrated at the turn of the 1900s. From there, our adventure had taken us to Haugesund, the village from which my wife’s great-grandparents had emigrated in the late 1800s. We stayed with Judy’s relatives – Ole, Elsa and Kari Maland.

The rough trip left us a little wobbly once we reached land again at Stavanger, Judy and I traveled by taxi to the rail station in Stavanger and boarded the train that would lead us, ultimately, back to our German hosts’ home. We had upgraded our rail pass for a sleeper car, since we would be traveling overnight to our ultimate destination.

That “sleeper” car proved to be anything but, however, as the cramped quarters had room (?) for six passengers. Two of those, we quickly discovered, were quite ill. Fearing the worst, we went back to a regular car and found two young ladies, college students on their way home for Christmas, who gladly swapped their seats for our sleeper accommodations.

Slowly, we went from Stavanger to Oslo, then along the southwest coast of Norway into Denmark and, finally, back into Germany. Despite sitting all night, we managed a little sleep. There was no room to stretch as the train was filled to capacity with holiday travelers.

Finally, as the afternoon sun was sinking and nighttime began to fall across the country on Christmas Eve, we reached our destination. We were greeted by our German friends who, again, opened their home to two weary American travelers.

Manfred’s and Uschi’s daughters Claudia and Sandra were both there – Claudia with her husband and Sandra with her boyfriend. Claudia had been just 5 and Sandra was a toddler when I had last seen them in 1968.

Traditionally, Germans celebrate their family Christmas on Dec. 24, but they welcomed us like we were part of that family.

While I’d spent a couple of Christmases overseas in the past, it was a first for Judy and she marveled at the warmth of Manfred, Uschi, Claudia and Sandra as we shared their Christmas celebration. Surprisingly, there were even gifts for the two of us and the joy of the season erased our travel weariness. They all made us feel like anything but holiday interlopers.

We felt at home. Our old world families embraced us, and our German friends welcomed us as though we were a part of their family, too. As we’ve heard many times, “home is where the heart is,” and your heart can feel at home many miles away.

(Bill Haglund is a retired staff writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News. He can be reached at bhaglund13@msn.com)