One of the highlights of my Christmas season this year was a play performed by our small youth group at church entitled “A Christmas Carol: Disco Version.” In one scene Scrooge fails to recognize the ghost of his deceased partner Marley and gets excited when he misunderstands and thinks it is Bob Marley. The ghost of Christmas past takes him back to 1977 and the ghost of Christmas future needs to move on because he has a gig to show up at Paris Hilton’s house – well, you get the idea. The actors, bunch of hams that they are, gave a masterful performance and got some bigs laughs form the audience.
It got me thinking. As a child watching those beloved Christmas specials there was one in which a postman who looked a lot like Fred Astaire talked about all the grumpy people who didn’t have the time or enthusiasm for Christmas – and we got to see a series of grumpy old sourpusses expressing negative sentiments about Christmas. Shocking! I would never be like that, I thought and really believed it. Of course, I was eight. This Christmas season I have come dangerously close to being one of those grumpy old sourpusses. And it isn’t like me at all – at least not the old me.
But this December has been the perfect storm of stress – I started a new job in November and thus have very little personal leave built up and my husband had heart surgery. We discovered the need for heart surgery back in August, but it was put off for months because he needed to get some major dental work done before they could operate, and so the timing being what it was, the surgery ended up being scheduled for December 5th. The dental work cost thousands of dollars out of pocket and thus money is tight and in fact, the Christmas budget is near non-existent.
“Everyone” says of course that it’s not about the gifts and just relax and enjoy the season and concentrate on the true meaning – which is what I would love to do and intended to do and tried very hard to do. But that same “everyone” who told me money doesn’t matter had their collective hand out to give a little here and a little there and meanwhile, that same “everyone” was out there shopping with dedication, gusto, and aggression and constantly expressing great excitement about all the sales and the thing is, I really love to shop and don’t like when I can’t afford to do it. And when you are surrounded by a chorus of “Buy buy buy” and “Give give give” set to cheery music I’m not sure what caliber of character you need to not pay attention, but I know I don’t have that caliber. I admit I began – no not began – more like completed – a bout of full-fledged holiday blues verging on a nervous breakdown.
So my own personal Ghost of Christmas Past showed up and showed me my starry-eyed child self, the one who absolutely lived for Christmas, who made presents for everyone, swooned over the Harry Belafonte Christmas album and walked around dreamily humming “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” which I thought was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. Then off we flew back to the ‘80s, and there I was a poor college freshman energetically organizing a Christmas caroling party, even typing up the lyrics of the songs and making copies (on a Xerox machine!), arranging for visiting the homes of people who needed cheering up, and leading the singing. Wow, I said to the ghost, I did all that? This year I could barely show up to sing with the choir.
Then I saw myself as a young mother planning a Christmas open house party with my husband for friends from work and church and the neighborhood. I cleaned and decorated, shopped and cooked, and all that with a job and two small children. This year I couldn’t even get the tree up without the help of my sons.
The Ghost of Christmas Present showed up but I shooed her away. I am acutely aware of what is going on at present and don’t need any annoying nagging ghost to rub it in. Fortunately my Ghost of Christmas Future was not as grim as the one in Charles Dickens’ story. She told me I have hit rock bottom in my Christmas history. Next year there is nowhere to go but up. Start over, she advised. You’ve built a tower of expectations so high that adding unexpected life circumstances like jobs and heart surgery made it fall down. Somehow, this year you need to reassess, visualize, remember, and create something small, simple, and beautiful for 2012. I’m so glad my Ghost of Christmas Future was kind and comforting one, like a friend having a talk over coffee and muffins. And she didn’t even wear the black hood.
Actually things are not quite as grim as they were a week ago. I have modest gifts for everyone on my list. I ordered and received my Christmas cards (with my own illustration!), sang in our church Cantata last Sunday and then spent Sunday afternoon wrapping presents while watching “An American in Paris.” True, I have not gotten any of my gifts in the mail yet and have not baked a single cookie, but still, I am feeling a little more ready. It’s going to be fine, just fine.
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