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The ghosts of Christmases past


Messenger Staff

Christmas 2020, a unique Christmas for a unique year. New holiday experiences due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be mixed with the traditions of old. While we are all saddened that our holiday traditions will be affected, the COVID-19 pandemic, just like the Grinch, will not prevent Christmas from coming. Christmas lights and decorations are already adorning many homes, businesses, churches, and towns. Christmas cards are being mailed. Presents are being bought and wrapped. Christmas carols and songs are being played and sung. Christmas shows are airing on television. Christmas goodies such as candy and cookies are being baked. And families are frantically trying to figure out how, if it is even possible, to safely be with their loved ones. Christians are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and many other religions are celebrating observances during the month of December as well.

As I write this, I think of all my loved ones who are no longer with us. But every year, even this one, I feel their presence with me during this holiday season. I feel their presence when I drag out my Christmas decorations and see all the items that belonged to family members. I feel their presence when I play Christmas carols on the piano and I think of all the times I played for my family. I feel their presence when I watch Christmas shows and remember watching them with my family. I feel their presence when I cook food that they always served on the holidays. I feel their presence when I ask my husband to decorate outside for Christmas because I always ask him to put up more lights and decorations than he wants to, and I remember my parents doing the very same thing! I feel their presence when I remember the tradition of drawing names and gathering together on Christmas Eve for food and gift-giving. I feel their presence on Christmas Day when we gathered for Christmas dinner and gifts at my mother’s house, a tradition that continued until her death in 2014. I feel my grandmother’s presence on Christmas Eve when I remember playing rook with her and she won even though she professed to not be able to see her cards. I feel my mother’s presence when I decorate the Christmas tree and remember, fondly now, her insistence on perfection. I remember how I always irritated her by saying that she traumatized me as a child when we decorated the Christmas tree. I feel my mother’s presence when I see Christmas fudge and candy. She always made so much I took candy to college, to to work, to friends, to neighbors, and there was still so much left over that she insisted on everyone taking some home on Christmas Day, whether they wanted it or not! I especially remember the time I ate so much peanut butter fudge (as an adult mind you) that I was sick to my stomach…and came back the next day and got some more! Fortunately, my family does not have to worry about that because I never learned that candy-making skill from her. A fact which they both regret and appreciate! I feel my dad’s presence when I look at my child-size china cabinet that he made for me for Christmas, the same year he made a china cabinet for my adult sister. I feel his presence when I look at the beautiful jewelry he made out of rocks he collected and gave as gifts. I feel his presence on Christmas Eve when I remember the countless times he watched the news with me to track the progress of Santa and his reindeer. I especially feel his presence this time of year because he died on December 19, 1979, and although we were grief-stricken and the holidays were sad, I felt his presence then, as I do now.

During this different holiday season, I can rely on my memories of past holidays. I will remember praying for snow as a child because I was always afraid that Santa Claus could not come on Christmas Eve without snow. I will remember trying to snoop in the house for presents before Christmas but I never found them. I will remember having Christmas Eve with my mother, step-father, grandparents, siblings and their families, aunts, and cousins for many years until all our children grew up and messed that up by having families of their own and other places to go on Christmas Eve! After a few years of trying to work it out, we gave up and changed our annual Christmas Eve gathering to the Saturday before Christmas. I will remember throwing out a whole bagful of gifts for my daughter and her husband because in the chaos of Christmas Eve at my house, the bag got mixed up with the garbage. I will remember the funny incidents, the boisterous conversations, and recipe disasters (mostly mine) that always occurred. I will remember the mountain of cookies and candy that my sister-in-law always brought along with her Christmas presents of pasta salad for everyone. I will remember my mother invariably putting the wrong names on tags on her gifts….or not putting tags on them at all and we got to play the “guess who this present is supposed to be for” game!

I will remember my sister and brother-in-law, nephews and niece, coming every Christmas Eve to spend the night with us when I was growing up so they could be there on Christmas morning and then have Christmas dinner with the whole family. I will remember them taking us out on Christmas Eve to look at the lights. I will remember my brother-in-law, who worked at Ford Motor Company, always working the night before they came and taking a nap on Christmas Eve afternoon or working on Christmas Eve and taking a nap on Christmas Day afternoon. It was a family joke that he always slept at our house during the day at some point on all holidays.

I will remember the holiday portraits we were able to make with our children and grandchildren that I still have on display in our home.

I will remember playing Elvis and other Christmas music on my CD player at work. I will remember decorating my office and participating in door decorating contests and holiday events with my coworkers and friends.