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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Awesome Ghosts of Holidays Past

Neither Teri nor I are very sentimental people by nature.  I don't even make excuses for myself around it any more and Teri is the quickest person to pack up, discard and give away of anyone I have ever known.  This tendency to live in the present, however, does not mean we don't have attachments, memories and ghosts--and this is the time of year when a flurry of memories whirls around us.

Here's my confession: I have not saved every piece of schoolwork or homemade ornament my kids made while growing up.  I have a few--representations, if you will--and they suffice.  I've given back many items to the kids so they can have, cherish or not, depending on what matters to them. Besides, for me, the ghosts and memories aren't really in items or things--they are more in smells, recipes, activities, and stories.  Teri and I find ourselves doing a whole lot of story-telling this time of year--remembering benchmarks, comparing childhood experiences, and thinking about holidays that have come and gone.

For me, the best Christmas is always the one that is going down right now--everything else seems shadows or rickety drift boats floating off in the distance.  That does not, however, stop us from remembering people who are no longer with us; versions of our kids that pop up in stories of certain times and places; or versions of ourselves we've said good bye to long ago.  I think this is one of the reasons Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has stood the test of time and still rings true with so many people; we all have whole lifetimes we've lived and people we used to be and this time of year gives us full on permission to revisit, re-tell and repent.

The ghosts come and go--they wander in and out of the kitchen while I am making Russian teacakes or stirring up the zillionth cup of hot cocoa; they slide across the floor when I unwrap the set of colorful Nutcracker ornaments three school-age kids and I got in the lobby during intermission at one of the many performances of the Nutcracker ballet we attended; they slosh across the backyard in the plump, green mist of a Pacific Northwest December; and they gyrate through the air while Burl Ives sings "Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas"...

These ghosts mean well, but they are not always welcome.  It can be hard to reconcile my 3-year-old son, Stuart, dressed as a pirate-superhero-ballerina with the tall, thin, soft-spoken and stoic young man he is now.  Thoughts of my grandparents dressed up for the annual Christmas party at the Elks club in all their polyester finery are bittersweet. Memories of sad Christmases--deaths, loss and loneliness--remind us even more of the attachments we have made and lost.

There is something about these short, dark days and the need to light them up with candles, twinkle lights and the burning of the home fires that all goes hand-in-hand with the dance of the mid-winter ghosts. If we allow ourselves to settle in to the darkness and the cold damp, it is tailor-made for waltzing with memories, sharing our stories and giving in to the soul-healing rituals of bringing ourselves solidly into the present. There is no where else I'd rather be than right here, right now, and the Christmas ghosts help to remind me how I got here.

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