Redefining the Holidays: Letting Go of My “Ghost of Christmas Past”

Posted on 26. Dec, 2012 by in Redefining The Holidays

Dear Thriving Wife,

Today I am celebrating my first Christmas with my new husband and I am also celebrating what I refer to as MY FIRST REAL CHRISTMAS.  I was inspired to write this after thinking a lot about the author Charles Dickens and his well known work, A Christmas Carol. We all know about the  “Ghost of Christmas past”, which was the first of three haunting spirits in this wonderful story.  For me,  this “ghost” does not just come from a movie.  It is actually an idea that has been following me around for many years and I did not even know it until this year.  As a Thriving Wife, my goal is to become more and more conscious of my past patterns and behaviors based on my family of origin without letting that past dictate my present or my future.  And today, on Christmas, I finally let go of my “ghost of Christmas past.”

Going shopping for this year's Christmas Tree!

Going shopping for this year’s Christmas Tree!

Let me give you a little background story.  Right now as I am writing this to you it is early afternoon on Christmas Day.  I am looking at our very beautiful cedar tree and all the unwrapped presents sitting on our living room coffee table.  I am looking at the Christmas ornaments decorating the tree, and remembering how thoughtful my mother in law was to loan us these very beautiful, rare and hand made decorations that she’s had for many years.  I am enjoying a fireplace as my husband prepares our brunch and I am sipping a mimosa with some lovely champagne and orange juice.  The details of my day only matter because I want to paint a picture for you to know that I am really happy and enjoying this day.

I don’t care how much the gifts cost and I am not keeping a tally and figuring out how many I got.  On the other hand, I am thinking about the fact that this is MY FIRST REAL CHRISTMAS.

So, you just read those words and you may be thinking that this is impossible.  After all, I am in my mid 30’s, recently married and living an independent life with my husband.  Yes, this is true.  But, let me explain what a REAL CHRISTMAS looks like to me:

A real Christmas takes place in a home where I feel safe.  There is no one yelling at me and no one is hitting me or sexually abusing me.  There may be one or one hundred presents under the tree.  The presents are not what make a real Christmas in my opinion.  It is about the experience of being loved and accepted without a knot at the base of my stomach.  It is about sitting amongst love ones because there is love and not because we share blood yet can’t bear to be around one another. It has nothing to do with obligation and everything to do with desire.  There is food and there is joy and no one wants to hide in the bathroom in order to miss the whole occasion.  When I was growing up, the best present Santa could have given us was to give my parents different jobs instead of the teaching jobs they had because their jobs meant they had all the same holidays we did.  And this also meant that every form of violence and terror that reigned in our home could be multiplied times a million when the holidays arrived.  The yelling got louder and the bruises got bigger and I did not like Christmas.  I really didn’t.  I despised any holiday that meant we all had to gather and read some religious passage and watch some religious movie and all I could do was pray for the day to pass. This was what kept me sane.

What I have just described to you is the Christmas I knew growing up as a child and until I went off to college.  After that I enjoyed many holidays with friends and their families, but I secretly grew anxious as December approached and I wondered where I would go for the holidays.  I felt like the foster child who had been sent from one foster family to the next, with none really being capable (or having the space) to have me.  I smiled when I arrived at a friend’s home for the holidays, and soon after sitting down my eyes would quickly scan the boxes beneath the tree to see if something had my name on it.  I did not want a present, I just didn’t want to sit there awkwardly and watch a family open presents and smile at each other while I laughed awkwardly without anything to open. There could have been and empty box staring back at me for all I cared, I just needed to know that something had my name on it.  I hardly ever went to the address and zip code that held together my parent’s house.  For me, it was a house with a driveway and people lived in it, but it was not a home.

It was not a place that I could go and feel glad to be there and know people were happy to see me there.  During the few years that I did return there, I counted the days until I flew back to California to breathe a different kind of air that was the air of freedom, desire and choice.  A real Christmas was always something I wanted to choose to do.  So now you know my “ghost of Christmas past.”  It did seem to haunt me every fall as Thanksgiving approached, especially because I knew Christmas was around the corner.  I am not writing this because I am sad and want you to be sad with me.  You can feel however you want to feel.  I am writing this to celebrate the fact that today I am letting this ghost go, and I do not have to carry it anymore.  I am writing this to let you know that YOUR PAST DOES NOT HAVE TO BE YOUR PRESENT OR FUTURE!

My husband PJ has a wonderful way of helping me let go of my challenging past by creating a better present and future.  Last night I made peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies and put out a cup of milk for Santa.  We have a chimney, so PJ said that was perfect for Santa too.  For the first time in my life, I felt like I was getting the change to transform and transcend the past, and put and even better memory in place of the horrible ones.

I know I am no longer 10 years old.  I know that Santa is a huge part of the Christmas Story for many children.  Today I wanted to be that child and I was.  My adult self could see the child in me enjoying every moment.  The truth is, I actually love the holidays. I love the smell of fresh cedar coming from my tree.  I love the ornaments.  I love cleaning my home and stuffing PJ’s stocking with little things that he would love.  I love the joy of gathering in honor of all things we cherish and in celebration of how these moments we have with each other mean so much on this day, and should mean even more each and every day.

I had never put out cookies for Santa.  Last night I did.  I had never woken up in the morning on Christmas Day to see the milk and cookies gone.  This morning I saw that they were gone.  I had never had the opportunity to spend Christmas with family that was truly mine.  Today I did.  I had never had the chance to open Christmas gifts that were actually meant for me and took into account what I liked and didn’t like.  Today I did.  I had never had a real stuffed animal that was something I loved and not attached to some form of violence in my family.  Today my husband gave me one.  I did all of these things so I could have the “experience” of Christmas that I missed as a child.  And in doing that, I let go and am no longer concerned about the holidays of the past.  For me, it’s about the present and the future.

Cookies for Santa!

Cookies for Santa!

In the famous holiday Charles Dickens story, the author describes the ghost as “being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away.”  This sounds a bit like my ghost, or should I say ghosts.  Like any traumatic event, there will always be traces etched in our minds. But as we replace those difficult times with more and more pleasant ones, our ghosts go from being full grown fears to “legs without a head” or “a head without a body” until there is “no outline” left of them.  I still see traces of mine, but slowly and surely they are “melting away.”  I hope yours are too!

Happy Holidays everyone!  I am learning so much as a new wife and a Thriving Wife as Well.  May today be filled with being able to take in all of your firsts as a couple and as an individual.  I love being loved.  It is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give.  So soak it in and write down how today is different from the past and know that it will be from this day forward.