We received our first Christmas card in November. The cover was a photo of the family, all snow and smiles, with a piece of pretty paper tucked neatly inside listing all of the impressive accomplishments that each family member had impressively achieved, followed by their equally inspiring hopes for the future. Everything was positive and cheerful, the treetop glistened, the children listened, and it was just like the one I used to know (according to the chorus).
I had to check the postmark to make sure it had been sent in 2016.
Christmas isn’t what it used to be, and there are several factors involved — from the angry cries of those claiming there is a war upon it to the endless emails pitching artichoke dip makeovers and festive crafts for leftover felt scrap — the magic of the season has been spun so thin I can see January through it.
There are other reasons, of course, the death of my mother three years ago, just two days before Christmas — her car packed with gifts and cookies, gone in a moment of tragedy — while miles away my boys sat at frosted window panes, eager with the want of her pending arrival. Like all things, loss grows heavier through the holidays.
There is the distance of nostalgia, growing fonder the memories of my own youth, the proverbial “back in my day” of Christmas past, the impish specter of the season. The holidays were once full of family and wonder, pie and presents, and the simple innocence of childhood. It is a thing hard to replicate as a grown-up looking in, bound by bills and instruction manuals, but we try it all the same, Yoda be damned.
Yet, even as a child I found melancholy in the merry, a comfort existing not only in the lights but also the darkness around them, for what was one without the other? Sometimes I fear that the scales have finally tipped, that the sweet has lost ground to the bitter, and that I worry so much about giving my boys must-see reruns from airbrushed days of yore that I cannot appreciate the now. Quoth the Kanye, “I’m living in the future, so the present is my past.” I’m not sure what that means, but it feels deep, and that feels right.
The boys, however, seem oblivious to everything but the magic. The news doesn’t keep them up at night. The world doesn’t worry them. They are not haunted by parental pressures or pocketbook pitfalls. They know Santa Claus and popcorn, a playlist of Christmas carols, and our annual counting of the trees we see tied upon car tops. They know life is living through the loss and that wishes are best whispered with gentle kindness. Their heads are full of visions, and they have no idea what a sugarplum is. They appreciate my story, and they build upon it, keeping Christmas with the making of memories and the warm giving of them. It is for them that I keep my ghosts at bay.
We probably won’t send Christmas cards again this year, but that has little to do with our accomplishments or the hopes that we cling to. Rather, it is the slow crawl of winter, the toll of time always ticking, and the increasing cost of postage. Besides, I’m still happy with the last card we sent, and some things are best left to linger. After all, the present may be my past, but my past is still a present. I think it is a gift worth sharing, if only for the smiles that follow.
Honea Christmas card photo by Zach Rosenberg