There is a saying that home is where the heart is; there is also a saying that the grass is greener on the other side. I don’t think I really knew what those sayings meant until I was faced with living abroad.

I love Christmas. It is so spirit-filled for us Christians. And the lights and food and gifts and parties just add an extra flare.

But when you are far from loved ones, the holidays take on a different vibe. They are still beautiful, but they are like the 4th of July without fireworks. You expect that spark, and when it doesn’t show up, there is a tinge of disappointment, even though the overall experience of the day was beautiful.

I was born and raised in Miami and when I lived in Europe and Africa, I could not wait to get home to the warmth – not only the temperature, but the warmth of family and friends.

Miami is fabulous. Take it from me. I am a native – born and raised. It has spirit and beauty and sand and sun and a certain flavor, with or without the tourists or transplants. It is wonderful.

But is has no snow.

I remember from my days in Detroit, Boston and Washington how magical snow and ice are to the Christmas holiday. Yes, palm trees are cool. But, snow … icicles … snow men … ice-skating. I now know why people dream of a white Christmas. It is indeed glorious.

But … so is sun and sand.

This time of year I think of my loved ones – in America, Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and Asia. Yes, all of those places. I am so blessed to be loved and to have loved so many people from around the world. It is those people I think about so much this time of year. I imagine how they are celebrating the holidays – with grilled red fish or fufu; banku or egusi soup; goose, carp or Glühwein; antipasta or fresh salmon or tuna Carpaccio; pea-soup-and-dough or conch salad; dim sum or Peking duck.

I think about Ferial and Mr. Best and Naomi and Ben and Wesley and Kayce and Mohammed and Troy and Khadija, Pavol and My Hue.

I am so thankful for the birth of my Lord and Savior and for the friendships that I have made over my 49 years of life. I am grateful for so many people, things and experiences.

I am grateful to have taken communion from Bishop Desmond Tutu. I am grateful to have met Nelson Mandela on his frost trip to the United States. I am grateful that President George W. Bush gave me a tour of the Oval Office. I am grateful to have gone on many safaris in Africa. I am grateful to have my first full-time job as a reporter in the same town in upstate New York where my aunt lived. I am grateful to have helped journalists around the world get out of jail. I am grateful to have seen the late-great Frank Sinatra and B.B. King in concert. I am grateful for health and family.

I am grateful for Bernice Bethel – my mother, who made it all possible; who was there from day one.

For me, Christmas is a time to give thanks for so many things, not least of which is the miraculous birth. But it is also a time to give thanks for life and love and inspiration and lack of hesitation, and bravery and experiences and loves won and lost.

This Christmas I wish so much for so many.

If I were to sit on Santa’s lap (besides almost giving him a heart attack with the pure heaviness of it all), I would ask him for good health and prosperity for all of my loved ones, for peace in the world, for tolerance and a respect for the oceans and lands we inhabit. I ask the same in my prayers every night.

Christmas is so much more than whether you decorate with a pine tree, palm tree or Douglass fir, or whether you have a Yule log, Nativity scene or simply ornaments, garland and mistletoe. It is about where your heart is, and where you are. It is about a new birth, a rebirth.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, peace, joy and God’s blessings.

Alison Bethel McKenzie is a veteran newspaper editor and former executive director of the International Press Institute in Vienna, Austria.