Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

The Ghosts of Christmases Past

on December 16, 2014

Christmas Tree

If I had to explain the main message of this blog, I would say that it is about change. To be clear, it is not an advice column about how to deal with change, or an example of a person who has successfully dealt with change (hardly!). It is an ongoing narrative of a person who has been in what seems to be a constant state of change for some time.

As a consequence of my heightened awareness of this ongoing change, I’ve begun to wonder if there was ever a time in my life where there was no change, when I lived in a steady state of being, where I could count on things being a certain way. A time when I felt safe and not at the mercy of the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”. It certainly seems that way when I look back, and nothing brings it home to me as the holiday season does.

Each year, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I’m confronted by the ghosts of my Christmases past. My feelings about Christmas are complicated; they are loaded with emotion and memory, joy and grief, surprise and disappointment. I suspect most of us feel this way about it if we’re honest.

For example, I remember the exact moment the magic of Christmas ended for me. By “magic” I mean my belief that there was a person called Santa Claus who delivered presents on Christmas Eve to everyone who had been good that year. Up to the moment of discovery I totally believed in Santa and his flying reindeer. One year I remember being very concerned that he wouldn’t be able to deliver presents to us because the apartment we lived in didn’t have a fireplace. My father soothed my fears, explaining that Santa would just come through the sliding glass door that led to the balcony. I think I still insisted on sleeping on the couch in the living room, just in case he needed my help getting in (does this sound familiar, people who know me?).

It must have been the next year that the bubble burst. We were on the way to my grandmother’s house for Christmas, all of us piled in the family station wagon. I was in the “way back” (that backwards-facing seat under the hatch back), and there was a big box back there with me. I could read enough to know that it contained a bicycle. After some deduction, I realized that it was most likely the bicycle I had asked Santa for, and I didn’t understand what it was doing in the back of our car. Then it hit me. There was no Santa. It had been my parents all along.

I may have asked Dad about it; I don’t remember. I just know that from that moment on, my thoughts and feelings about Christmas were irrevocably changed. We all go through it, that moment of truth. Maybe the realization came to you as it did to me, or maybe some mean older kid told you. To my sister’s credit, I’m sure she knew (she’s four years older than me), but she kept that information to herself. And I in turn never told my little brother. We have to face it sometime, though, the truth that there is, unfortunately, no Santa Claus.

And then we spend every Christmas for the rest of our lives trying to re-create the magic and the innocent wonder of those Christmases before we knew. Or is that just me?

As I grew up in the warm embrace of my family, I became sort of manic about Christmas traditions. In our family we got to open one present on Christmas Eve – any one of our choosing. In the morning we could wake up Mom and Dad, but we had to wait upstairs until they said all was ready for us to come down.  We had a Santa hat, and whoever wore the hat handed out the presents – one at a time. Every year my mother made fruitcake (for my grandfather – none of us would touch it, even though it smelled fantastic), divinity, and fudge. We’d have Turkey and dressing and green bean casserole for dinner. My Dad had a toy train set he’d had since he was a child, and he would set up the track so that it encircled the Christmas tree. The noise of the toy train, the music playing on the stereo, the clanking of pots and pans in the kitchen, the rustle of wrapping paper, and, most of all, the laughter – those sounds blended together in what became for me the soundtrack of Christmas. Add to that the sight of the tree too small for all the presents to fit under and the smell of pine needles and roasting turkey, and all of it became the magic of Christmas. And it just wasn’t Christmas unless all of these things happened the way I thought they should, and I did everything I could to make sure they did.

It had to end of course – you can’t stay frozen in time, children grow up and things change. My sister got married when I was still in high school. There was an unthinkable tragedy in a family very close to us that still to this day adds a somber shade to my palette of Christmas colors. My parents divorced. It’s natural – life happens. But I still wanted that wonderful feeling that all was right with the world. The love of a good friend gave me back some sense of that wonder one year, but I didn’t have a really good Christmas again until after I got married and my husband and I began to establish some new traditions.

And again, I got manically protective of those traditions. I worked hard to maneuver things with my extended family so that my husband and I could have our Christmas the way I wanted it. If things didn’t work out, I got kinda grumpy (insert apology to parent/siblings).

Over the years, though, things changed again, and now it seems like every year is something different. I’ve had to give up my ideas about what makes Christmas Christmas, because it changes all the time. For so long I’ve equated Christmas with traditions, and I’ve felt cheated when I didn’t get to have the holiday my way.

This year is even more different than ever, and, finally, I think I’m over needing to have my traditions to make it a real Christmas.

I know what is for me the true meaning of Christmas, and every year I fervently pray for Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men. I believe in the promise of the love of God. I don’t have any passionate interest in acquiring more stuff. I have been reminded, yet again, of the fragility of life, and the need to embrace the ones we love at every opportunity. That is the only thing that matters; everything else is just temporary.

So, to my Ghosts of Christmases Past – thanks for the memories, but I won’t be needing you anymore. I have my eyes fixed firmly ahead of me. I will find the joy of Christmas where it has always been, in the love of my family and friends. I know now that the security I thought I had never really existed, and, for the first time in my life, I’m ok with that. More than ok; I’m happy and content with the present. I hope all of you are as well.

Merry Christmas!

photo credit: SurFeRGiRL30 via photopin <a

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