Home is a curious concept. Generally, we use the term to suggest a snuggly place that feels like ours. Where we can feel comfortable and secure. In many ways, it's as emotive a word as love. People use it sparingly. It truly means something to use it to describe a location. Understandably, if your parents' home doesn't feel like your home any more, you're liable to call it something different than you may have as a child. And yet, often, at Christmas, people with their own homes will still describe themselves as 'going home for Christmas' when they explain they're staying with their parents for a few days.
About 12 years ago, I remember driving home from University for Christmas. It was inexplicably clichéd. There was snow in the fields nearby and 'Driving Home for Christmas' was playing on the radio. It was perfect in its way. Three hours later, I was home and enjoyed a lovely Christmas with my parents. That was my last taste of 'going home' for Christmas.
That sounds bleak but there's generally a 'last' time for most of us. It's how life goes. Now, I live with my chronically ill mother, with my father having died 10 years earlier. It means Christmas is a little more stressful. There's a terrifying amount of preparation to make it feel like we're doing Christmas 'properly'. Often, it's just nice to have got to the actual day vaguely sane and without having mentally imploded too much. I don't like to be 'that' person, but as the time nears, I can't help but be a little envious when I see friends and peers finishing up their work for the year, buying a few gifts and heading home, knowing that they'll be well and truly looked after for a few days. No need for them to remember to defrost the turkey or to cut up seemingly endless quantities of vegetables. Not everyone is as lucky, of course, but when it comes to the people I know, this tends to be the case.
My home is still my home, of course, but it's nice to have somewhere to escape to. Somewhere that feels like a home from home, where you're cocooned in nostalgia with not a bad memory in sight. Where everything is wonderfully familiar and comfortable. Perhaps weirdly, that's why I gravitate towards World of Warcraft each winter. It's an unusual home, isn't it? I never played it as an obsessive raider, keen to be the very best, so it was a fairly relaxed experience. I just liked wandering and levelling up at my own pace. In reality, I'm the world's most antisocial World of Warcraft player and have been for many years. It's bliss.
I've played World of Warcraft since the closed beta days of 2004. It's been quite the consistent presence throughout my adult life. I only really picked it up because of my then boyfriend. I'd avidly played EverQuest beforehand, but I had no plans to lose myself to another MMO any time soon, until he got me into it. We were in a long-distance relationship so it was the perfect way of spending time when we couldn't be together physically. We both rolled night elf hunters to start out, working closely together while sharing conversations about our days. Like some kind of MMO equivalent to sitting around the dinner table catching up on daily events. It gave us a connection that helped sustain our relationship probably longer than it should have gone on for, but the inevitable breakup didn't affect my enjoyment of the game. It felt like comfort food instead.
There was the evening I was sitting in my new university house. My possessions still in boxes, but I was tired. I'd greeted my new housemates but they weren't that sociable just yet, and it was getting late. What to do to feel comfortable? To feel at home? I loaded up World of Warcraft and wandered around Stormwind, reminding myself of a little bit of familiarity in an otherwise unfamiliar stage of life. Even when I first switched to a Mac after a lifetime of Windows, the first thing I installed was World of Warcraft to feel comfortable once more.
There were countless other forays into the game. Every time, I'd roll almost the same character - a night elf hunter. The arrival of Kung Fu Panda-inspired Pandaren monks gave me a change of pace but I'm fiercely loyal to night elf hunters, even if they're far different from the original character I had back in 2004. It's the part where you get a cuddly pet to fight alongside you that makes all the difference. Who'd have thought a flippant decision so long ago would have such an effect?
Nowadays, I don't have the time I used to have. Excluding when there's a new expansion pack and I need to play for work, I rarely dip into World of Warcraft other than during those winter months. That's a good thing for the most part. Life is better, but it's still relatively unorthodox. I'm still at an age where friends see themselves as going home for Christmas, with Christmas basically ready for them to dive into. I don't begrudge them although I wish I'd had a few more years like that. But at least I have this strange sense of comfort stemming from a MMO that I only really picked up because of a long-gone boyfriend. When Christmas feels a tad overwhelming, I know where to go hide. Just for a little while till I come bouncing back out like nothing was ever the matter. It's nice to have a second home.