Everyone has his or her own memories of Christmas as a child, and I am no exception. Christmas in our house was incredibly special. My mother was dubbed early on by my family the “Queen of Christmas.” She would decorate the house with greens, holly, and a huge variety of glass ornaments she had collected over the years. Mostly everything was glass, as plastic had not yet come into vogue (if it even existed) in the late ‘50’s and ‘60s. I especially remember the beads, strings of gold and green, which adorned the stair railing—all glass, and some having been broken over many years of use— like small delicate bird eggs with much sharper edges!
Christmas morning was like a dream come true. My sister and I slept in the same room on Christmas Eve until we were too old to do so and would keep a watchful eye on the stockings hung on the door. We felt as if a hundred hours had passed as we nervously tossed and turned in the bed swearing every few minutes that we heard Santa and his reindeer on the roof. Without fail we would eventually fall asleep, even though we were certain we had been up all night, and that mystical passing of time created whatever glorious magic was awaiting us hanging in our stockings on the door—and even more so sitting under the tree! I have never since known of anyone who had the sheer volume of gifts as our family did. Yes, clearly a very material Christmas, but to a child, there could not have been anything more amazing and special.
This feeling of pure Christmas magic did not falter for quite a few years as I grew up. I remember even late in my twenties while visiting my family during Christmas, sitting up in my childhood bedroom looking out the window into the cold wintry night and thinking of all the children waiting for the morning to come. The magic was in the air, and for a very long time I felt it surging all around me in the quiet bedtime solitude of Christmas Eve.
But eventually, over the years, much of it faded away.
I still love Christmas, but after a few decades of difficult times, deaths in the family, sickness, illness, and no children of my own to create the magic for, it has indeed waned a bit and no longer carries the same energy.
I want it back. Do you ever feel this way?
Many people are very depressed at Christmastime, and one of the major causes for this holiday depression is a seemingly insatiable desire to return to that blissful childhood time—either a time that actually did manifest for you as a child, or a time that was always locked up hopelessly in your childhood dreams and wishful imagination.
As Heraclitus wisely said, we can never step into the same river twice. Everything changes, everything is different, and when we desire to repeat exceptionally joyful occasions by trying desperately to set the stage as it once was we typically are doomed to fail.
Memories are seldom true objective recordings of past events—good or bad. They are colored—brightly or darkly—influenced by a huge variety of life events. They then can be glorious beyond repetition, or horrific filled with the irrational fear that they could rematerialize at any moment. Where’s the joy in that?
Clearly living n the past, either a nice one or a bad one, is not conducive to making a happy or meaningful present. The operative word here is “living.” This, I believe, is where we most often err. A memory should not, and in fact, can not, be re-“lived.” It can be remembered, and pondered, and relished or abhorred, but if the setting and environment seem to be re-created for the time past to come alive once again, it invariably will fail to impress. Heraclitus’ river has indeed changed.
So my lesson this Christmas is to remember, respect and honor the wonderful times of the past, and create a new, joyous and beautiful time of the present—with new experiences, albeit with a smattering of the old spirit, and attempt to touch that place in my heart that resonated so powerfully with the childhood joy I once experienced. Not easy to do of course, but certainly possible.
So Merry Past, and most importantly, Merry Present Christmas…
Please leave comments on this blog by clicking the “comments” link below. I am a psychotherapist practicing in Richmond Hill, Ontario, please check out the rest of my website. The image “Christmas” is displayed here courtesy of my sister, Charla, who created this wonderful piece. Visit her website as well if you are interested in her work. Nameportraits by Charla.