Ghosts of Christmas Past

And so this is Christmas. Yet again, the year winds down, the kids stay home from school, and everyone is encouraged to be a little nicer in between bouts of binge shopping.

For us, the holidays should be great. My life, if I’m being honest, is pretty fantastic. I am lucky to have a wonderful family, beautiful home, and the opportunity to do what I truly want to do with my life. I have every reason to be the happiest guy in the world.

That holiday season, though, can sometimes knock the merry right out of me without warning. The decorations, the music, and even the big jolly guy in his red suit can conjure up ghosts from Christmas past to haunt my days and dreams.

I’ve had some bad Christmases in my life. The irony is that, even with all those moments firmly in the rear-view mirror, time sometimes make the sting harsher. For someone in an abusive relationship or toxic environment, the immediate memory of any pain you left behind can be hard to deal with. There are hurt feelings and confusion about starting fresh and making tough choices. That’s in the beginning.

ghostAs time passes, though, you start to learn that relationships don’t have to be like that. People don’t treat each other with such sharp malice in the real world and all that you accepted as life was something worse. You start to think about those ghosts and how they could have treated you that way. Who do they think they are? Years removed, I know that people don’t have to act like that. Life doesn’t have to be that way. It takes nothing to be kind. That knowledge makes any past pain even harder to understand and even more infuriating in hindsight.

Then you remember, none of those moments are from this Christmas. They weren’t even last Christmas. Heck, it could have been fifty Christmases ago and it wouldn’t matter. When the memory comes smacking you upside the head, it immediately rips you back to the year it happened.

Oh, and make no mistake, it will smack you in the head. Maybe you’re on line at the grocery store or listening to Christmas Carols on the radio, but those thoughts show up in crazy ways. With holiday decorations popping up once a year, it’s only natural that the memories you’ve tied to the tinsel will spring up in surprising and unexpected moments. They do for me. The ghosts of Christmas past come calling and suddenly, I’m bummed out.

Not all of these ghosts are bad in the traditional sense. Some of the memories that sneak into your brain around the holidays might be wonderful. They’re beloved and cherished moments with people who, through death or other circumstances, are no longer there. Strangely enough, those can be some of the hardest ones of all. The happier those times were are only more difficult to comprehend once they’re over. In that sense, the year-end holidays can act as an encore for grief.

Good, bad, or indifferent, the ghosts of the holiday season are all around. It’s being able to suck it up when the world drags you down that makes you a real adult. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and deck the halls all over again.

The worst part about all of this is that feeling I have, even now as I write this, that maybe it’s just me. Like I’m going on and on about my bad memories and unresolved holiday issues while the rest of the world is looking at me like, “Uh, no. That’s just you. It’s about Rudolph and mistletoe, stupid.”

Maybe it is. Maybe I overthink it all. Even if it doesn’t happen to you, it happens to me. I can’t really control what is in my head. My brain works as it works and if it wants me to get bowled over by a sudden moment of misery while waiting to pay at Kohl’s, then it happens. I can’t change that. What I can control is how I handle it.

My kids don’t know that I can get a little down around this time of the year. If I do show any signs of it, it’s minimal and nothing that could ever be seen as ruining a holiday. Amazingly, it’s the fact that I don’t want to disappoint them that makes me push myself to smiletown throughout the entire month. I marvel at the amazing spots the elf is hiding in. I hang up ornaments and lights. I even dress up like Santa’s evil brother for a Christmas Eve battle of presents. I do a lot to make the day special for my entire family.

In turn, it helps to turn my mood around most days. Circling the Christmas Tree like Clark Griswald looking for a squirrel can do wonders for someone’s holiday spirit. It does for mine. Without the need to keep things festive for my children, I would almost definitely neglect it for only myself. Like so many other instances in my life, it’s my responsibility to them which helps keep me from crumbling.

Even if I didn’t have them, though, I’m confident of my own worth today more than the holidays of years gone by. That much I can see. The ghosts of Christmas past might be looking down on me with a smile or making my ears ring from afar. Either way, I’m rocking around the Christmas tree and pushing on until January when the decorations, and all the ghosts that come with them, are put away for another year.