Home for the Holidays

Isabelle M. is currently a junior at SYA France and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Wilmington Friends School in Delaware.

Trick or treaters. Doorbell ringing, dogs barking in reply. Costumes, chili, and, of course, candy. Friends. Family. For me, Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. Every year, my sister decks her room out in decorations–including everything ranging from black and orange boas to giant cat eyes that stare out from her windows into the street. I remember flipping through the highly-anticipated costume magazine every year when it arrived in July and re-using the purchased costumes for in-house theater performances written, directed, and performed by me and my cousins for our parents. Even as I have grown, Halloween has remained a notable point in the year for me–a time when eating obscene amounts of sugar is less frowned upon and when it is socially acceptable to dress in the weirdest clothing imaginable. Halloween was different this year. It’s not celebrated in France. I was aware of this fact before I arrived here, and I was not at all bothered. I am seventeen. I do not need to dress up in costumes or gorge myself on candy. Halloween is no longer important. Right? Well, as it turns out, not quite. 

The week just before the 31st of October, I was on a school trip to Sète, in the south of France. The month prior, there had been chatter of organizing an SYA-wide Halloween, something involving costumes and candy. It would be different, like everything this year, but fun all the same. As luck would have it, however, Halloween happened to fall on the very first day we returned from the school trip, and everyone’s host families were eager to leave for vacation, so our plans fell through. Halloween came and went, and I hardly noticed. It felt just like any other day, and that was fine–that is, until six hours later, when my friends from home began posting photos of themselves, all ready for Halloween. For the first notable time since I arrived in Rennes, I felt a wave of homesickness wash over me. I missed my friends, I missed my parents, and I missed my sister. I did not expect to feel this way. Halloween isn’t even a major holiday in my house–if Halloween made me so homesick, how would I feel during Thanksgiving? I didn’t want to think about it. That night, I put in headphones and fell asleep to Christmas carols, having decided that I would mentally skip to the nearest holiday I would spend with my family again. 

I woke up the next morning, still somewhat disheartened. I went downstairs to find my host parents, bustling about, having just returned from their daily trip to the bakery. They did not seem to be settling back into the house, so I asked what they were doing next. My host mom explained that they were going to faire une randonnée (go hiking) and invited me along. Honestly, I did not particularly want to go. I felt like wallowing in my self pity–definitely not in the mood to do exercise. I was not going to say that to my host parents, though, so I said I would love to go. My host parents smiled. I smiled. 

We hiked for about an hour and a half, traversing roots and rocks up and down steep trails on foot, just as I would with my mom at home. We climbed to the highest point in Paimpol. It would have made a marvelous picture. The trees all around us framed the view of the water and far below, waves crashed on the rocky shore. The wind blew strong, and I would have regretted not bringing a coat, but I was too happy to care. 

I missed the trick or treaters, the doorbell, the dogs, the candy and costumes. I missed my friends. I missed my family. I missed home, but somehow, standing over the town of Paimpol, back to the wind, salt water in the air, I realized I was thinking about everything wrong. I had not left home behind. Instead, my home had grown: my host parents, Rennes, and Paimpol all moving into rooms in the metaphorical house of my heart.  

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