Christmas is my favorite holiday. So many lights, so much festive music, so many cookies in my cookie jar. But for some, there are blue notes. Even I succumb once in a while to what I will call emotional nostalgia.
I’m a crier. Always have been. Always will be. But I do it in private, secretly, so as not to inflict my emotional outburst on anyone else. I used to laugh and tell myself “it’s hormones,” but now I don’t say it anymore because this manifestation of emotive pain has been infrequent. Rare even.
But one night, sitting at the dinner table eating leftover chili, my eyes filled and for no good reason I began to cry. I assured my husband it wasn’t the chili (he made it). It was one of those inexplicable occurrences when sadness swooped in and caught me off guard.
“No one said anything to me. I’m not remembering an old wound. Nothing hurts,” I reassured my husband. “I honestly don’t know why I feel like crying.”
But as I looked around the dining room I did know. On the wall was a smiling Santa face and a hand-made padded sign that said Joy. Across from me was a Christmas village complete with skating rink and crystal trees with a wreath above it, the wreath handmade by my sister who died much too soon. On the table, pushed aside, was a padded tree my sister had also made. In the corner was a nutcracker. All over the house I had outdone myself with decorations—snow globes, Santas, poinsettias, reindeer—every wall, every space, all in honor of the big day, many of them given to me by people who are no longer here.
“Why do I do it,” I asked my husband. “Am I trying to recreate the expectation of excitement that the season once brought? And by crying am I finally realizing I cannot bring back the kitchen full of people getting the dinner ready, the laughter, the good-natured teasing, kids begging to open a gift before morning, and the big, warm family that once gathered together on Christmas?
All of my decorations are symbols of the wonder that the season once brought, as are the lights I dutifully put up outside, the tree that I trimmed, and the special coffee cake I’ll make for Christmas morning. All of it is part of my past.
I wanted to get up, right then, and take it all down, put everything back in boxes, and tuck it away in a closet. Because that’s where the past belongs—in neat containers called memories. I cannot recreate the past. I cannot bring all the people back. I cannot emulate the excitement I once felt as a child. So I cried, knowing by the next day and probably the rest of the Christmas season I would be back to normal.
Letting go of the past is hard. Creating new traditions is harder. But I can still enjoy the trappings I’ve gathered over the years, even though I’m determined to look forward now and create new memories.
The blues have passed. My momentary aberration was a recognition that some things cannot be brought back. But if I tuck those old, tired expectations away, I can still feel joy in the lights, the music, the food, and the wonder on the faces of small children.
Tis the season. And as Clement Cark Moore said as he ended his famous poem, “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.”