Archive for Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The ghosts of Christmases past

December 26, 2007

These days, Christmas is always a mixture of many emotions. It is a time when family and old friends get together and celebrate with gifts, song and feasting. It's a time of reunion and reconciliation, of bringing out the most altruistic feelings in people.

When one is a young child, it is a time of anticipation that becomes almost overwhelming. When I was a young child, I remember being so excited about the prospect of getting a load of toys on Christmas morning that I couldn't sleep. I really believe that I lay awake the whole night many Christmas Eves just thinking about the wonderful surprises I would have in the morning. For a while, I believed that the bumping noises I heard from the general vicinity of the living room were made by Santa Claus.

My sister also couldn't fall asleep. We shared a room and whispered to each other wondering when our parents would allow us to get up and plunge into the booty. My brother, the traitor, would always fall into a deep sleep in his room. However, as soon as Ann and I believed it was close enough to morning that Mother and Father would allow us to dive into our presents, we tiptoed into my brother's room, awakened him and ran into the living room. There was safety in numbers.

Even if it were only 4 a.m., my parents would usually let us stay up and unwrap our presents. They would wearily sit in the living room and watch as we tore through our gifts. Then, they would go back to bed to finish out their rest as we snacked on Christmas treats and played with our loot.

However, as I grew up, I became less excited about Christmas. It was fun, but not the bonanza of fun I once believed it. It had lost much of its magic. I knew only too well the source of the gifts. Not until I had children did the holiday regain something of its excitement. We are all renewed through the eyes of the young.

An added dimension exists in that we can learn the joy of giving as well as receiving. Those Christmases with our young children brought immense satisfaction as we established our own Christmas traditions. In the early years, we shared our Christmases with my husband's family. There were a few years we actually spent the entire night of Christmas Eve at my in-laws. Our little daughter enjoyed being the focus of her aunt and uncle and various great aunts and uncles and grandparents coming and going. The house was full of bustle and buzz.

Now, we have become the grandparents and much of our original family has moved out of the area. My husband's and my parents have died, as have most of our aunts and uncles. Most of our siblings and one of our children have scattered to the four corners of the earth. The circle has diminished considerably from what it once was.

We stay in touch, but it's not the same. I heard the loneliness in my sister's voice when I spoke to her on the phone. She and her husband had a quiet day alone on Christmas day because her sons are both in the U.S. Navy and on opposite coasts, and she is in Denver. My brother made an effort to visit with all of his children at various times although they are scattered over several states.

We spent a great deal of time on the phone with our grandchildren on the west coast before and after Christmas. However, the joy is tempered by ghostly memories of Christmas's past and of people who once filled our lives but are no longer there. That is an unavoidable aspect of holidays as we become older.

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