ghosts of christmas past

the other day at work, we were chatting about our favorite christmas songs. although i’m as secular and irreverent as it gets, i love me some christmas music. i have a whole christmas playlist that i add/delete from my ipod on a seasonal basis because it takes up a fair amount of space.

anyway, my favorite christmas song is “have yourself a merry little christmas.” whenever i mention that, the typical response is “oh. that’s kind of a sad song.” and i agree – it is a little melancholy, which is what i really love about it.

the holidays aren’t just fun and games and presents and glitter. i think there’s a lot of emotion wrapped up there too, and some of it is sad. i can’t be alone in this – otherwise, how would we have these wistful and wishful christmas songs?

i think a lot about what christmas was like growing up. my brother and i were very lucky kids. we always had wonderful christmases. our parents did things like the family-christmas-tree-getting excursion (very griswald, i know!). we’d head up to arlington for a day of hay rides, cider, and choosing our very own tree to chop down (we usually chose a douglas fir). we did an annual day at a food bank where we helped assemble christmas food baskets for people in need. my parents helped us put out the eggnog and cookies every christmas eve, and never laughed at my insisting we include carrots and apples for the reindeer. snug and freshly pajama’d, we’d read “’twas the night before christmas” before bed, and we’d wake to a bunch of presents under the tree. stockings first, then breakfast, then prezzies.

i think a lot about christmases spent with my first serious boyfriend and his family. they always welcomed me over to share in their christmas eve festivities. i remember little things like how they always opened all their presents on christmas eve (which i found equal parts horrifying and hilarious), and then on christmas day they’d open all their stocking presents which were always stuffed inside of paper grocery bags instead of actual stockings. then they’d go to a movie (horror of horrors!) and have turkey, having done a honeybaked ham on thanksgiving (so backward! so adorable!). despite our differences, i loved being a part of their festivities and being exposed to something so different from what i did with my family. i bought his parents beautiful ornaments every year. sometimes i wonder if they still use them.

for me, the holiday sadness comes with having most of that magic and sparkle and ritual left in the past. it’s nothing anybody does intentionally – it’s just growing up. i do my own tree now, very different from my mom’s – it’s more dr. seuss than classic christmas. i put up stockings for vindaloo and me, and because i am completely that crazy dog lady, i only fill her stocking after she’s already gone to bed. i’m delighted by how she heads immediately for it in the morning, sniffing out whatever new toys and goodies hide inside.

slowly but surely, i’m creating my own christmas rituals. they’ll never be what they were when i was a child, but they have meaning all the same.

the sadness is part of it for me. listening to “have yourself a merry little christmas” and reflecting on christmases past, looking at my tree or wrapping presents for my nephews and nieces…it’s one of those moments where happiness and sadness meet in the middle. if i hadn’t been such a lucky child, if we hadn’t had such loving parents and solid christmas traditions of our own, i might not feel the sadness at all. but really, without the sadness, how do you truly know how to measure your happiness?

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