The Ghost of Christmas Past

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If the Crazy Target Lady doesn’t scare you straight, you’re beyond saving.

I have a confession to make: Christmas doesn’t really stress me out. That’s not particularly scandalous, but admitting this during the holiday season feels a bit like a betrayal to my hurried and harried sisterhood. Because, let’s face it: Many of the tasks that comprise “making the season bright” (e.g., baking, decorating, Christmas shopping, entertaining) often fall to the female gender.

I’m not trying to be sexist about gender roles. If we bring Christmas cookies or chocolate truffles to a holiday party, everyone knows the compliments go to my husband, the baker in the family. (Not surprisingly, I have trouble following directions.) But I think there’s some truth in my generalization.

What’s more, when it comes to holiday merrymaking, the motivations of men and women are often different. For example, a man going all Clark Griswold on his house is likely doing it because he gets a kick out of the results. But oftentimes his wife who is going from shop to shop trying to find gifts for teachers and distant in-laws is doing it more to fulfill an expectation than as a labor of love.

I used to be this woman until I realized it was sucking all the fun out of the holidays and really—once they stop being fun, what’s the point? Well, my spiritual side would argue that the point of Christmas is Christ. But I found that the whole religious aspect of Christmas was overshadowed by the incessant busyness and blatant commercialism, as well. Where were the moments of quiet reflection? Where was the magic?

One January, as I was taking down ornaments and swearing to myself that I’d “do it differently next year,” I composed a letter to myself. I’ve always loved “A Christmas Carol” and watching the musical “Scrooge” is a family holiday tradition, so let’s call this missive a “Message from the Ghost of Christmas Past.” The note starts like this:

Every year you do the same thing, Stormy. So this is a letter from your post-holiday, wiser self. I hope you will heed her message.

Then it has seven bullets of advice, addressing topics like:

  • Cookies – “We are never at a loss for cookies at any holiday gathering. Three types…are plenty.”
  • Gifts – “Buy little hostess gifts when you see them. They always come in handy. Keep track of what you get the kids so you don’t buy too much.”
  • Christmas Cards – “Keep it simple. Don’t feel compelled to send to people you aren’t connected to…and don’t worry about the ‘but they sent us one’ game.”
  • Traditions – “These are what make the holidays fun…Make Christmas about events and not things. Smaller gatherings are fun and meaningful.”

These are merely excerpts—my actual instructions to myself were more detailed and specific. I printed out my message and packed it away with my Christmas decorations where it was promptly forgotten until the following December.

The next year, when I pulled out my garlands and stockings the weekend after Thanksgiving, I spotted the note from Christmas Past and decided to heed my own advice. After all, if you can’t believe yourself, who can you trust?

That season, I took a low-key approach to the holidays and was pleasantly surprised. I was relaxed. Nobody died when I decided to skip sending Christmas cards that year. And we still enjoyed all of our favorite traditions. What a revelation! I felt like I owed a debt of thanks to my stressed self. 

Since then, my Christmas preparations have varied somewhat—some years I make more of an effort, some years less. But whatever I do, I do it for the joy of it and not because it’s an expectation. This flexibility has been critical this year as my mom’s surgery and recovery has consumed a good portion of the free time that my siblings and I would have to spend on holiday preparations.

By now my low-key approach to the holidays has become second nature. Yet, I still keep the note to remind me of my frazzled, younger years. There are some advantages to growing older and as Scrooge himself can attest, it’s never too late to master the fine art of keeping Christmas.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” 
                    ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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