The ghosts of Christmas past – they linger – don’t they?
Maybe it’s because some of the things and the people we associate with the past are still around. Maybe it’s because I stubbornly re-enact old traditions in the hope they’ll magically become that ideal that I have floating in my mind.
To be honest, I don’t much remember a Christmas I really enjoyed. That’s partly due to my having an awful memory, partly from being too self-absorbed in my younger days to notice what was going on around me, and partly too discomforted by the social conventions I didn’t want to be a part of (but would have made me feel like a social pariah if I avoided).
But still there is this sense of possibility in our heads – of just what Christmas might be. Is this really attained by endless planning, buying, cooking, eating, visiting, smiling, decorating… a wrapping up of the festive season to a perfect little insta-package we put out to the world? Hey look! I achieved the ideal hallmark Christmas, if only for the instant it takes me to snap a picture.
It is a fairy tale of sorts – this idea of Christmas – complete with sparkling lights and a sprinkling of snow if we’re lucky. Yet the fairy-tale only exists in stories – like those conjured by the greats – the few like Charles Dickens* that would have us tying ourselves in ribbons and bows to attain just a portion of it, while ensuring that no-one actually sees all the effort that goes into creating this illusion. We want to live the dream, but we kid ourselves if we think we want to put in all the effort required. Especially as we know it is all an illusion anyway.
The hallmark Christmas doesn’t exist… does it?
I may not be able to remember a single Christmas that was ‘perfect’. There were always mishaps like still frozen turkeys on Christmas morning; forgotten cornflour for the gravy; sulky, tired children; dead batteries; searching through rubbish bags for £20 notes or the instructions for a new toy; snarky in-laws – I could go on and on. And yet, there are indeed moments I recall – cherry pickings from all those years – in amongst the torn wrapping paper and the ghosts of Christmases past, almost hidden, there are little treasures that I can carry with me…
That one ‘white’ Christmas when we used the snow in silver pans to ice the wine on the table and pulled the children on sledges down the hill; the children’s faces at the sight of unopened presents; evening walks and the sight of glowing tree lights within the houses that we pass; making cards together and peppermint bark; the old flour sacks my brother and I used to have for Christmas stockings; the year my aunt brought her pet ferrets with her on boxing day; or another aunt’s homemade pickled onions; and watching The King and I and The Fantastic Voyage for the umpteenth time on VHS.
Sometimes you have to look hard to find these treasures, sometimes they shout in your face. Like a certain mischievous black kitten who has discovered her ability to climb right to the top of our Christmas tree!
Even those things that are annoying at the time can be sources of laughter afterwards. It is amazing what a little perspective can do. And just how lucky are we that we have trees, and lights, and enough food and warmth anyway? I just need to remember to remind myself of this when I get swept up in the spectacle of it all, as I seem to have an uncanny ability to forget.