Do you have ghosts of past Christmases? I have lots of them.
There are millions of people who have ghosts of past Christmases that are not so kind. I'm sure some of you reading this have some ghosts that are sad and cruel. I am very fortunate in this regard. My ghosts are all very kind. At least the Christmas ghosts.
Cue flashback harp music.
My brother and I are close in age — two years apart. My sisters are even closer. Only ten months separate them. Yes, I know. We can talk about that at another time. My oldest brother was all by himself, meaning he received unique Christmas gifts. Unique in that he didn't have to share them with anyone, nor was there a brother or sister who received the same gift in another color.
We didn't have a lot of money. My parents raised five kids. My father often worked a second job to earn extra money. Almost every pair of pants I wore as a child eventually had patches on the knees. When Christmas rolled around, Santa was usually pretty frugal. He often combined gifts to be shared by a pair of siblings. It was actually quite brilliant, when you think about it. Santa also didn't want to make anyone jealous, so he would often give matching gifts to siblings of similar ages. One such example comes to mind.
When I was around ten years old, my brother and I each got a football jersey. They were nothing like these $200 authentic NFL-approved, fan-gouging, over-priced jerseys that everyone has today. Just normal, everyday jerseys with stripes and numbers that would eventually wear off. But for a kid in the 1970s, they were pretty awesome.
My brother's was a purple jersey with the number ten. Purple was the color of the Vikings, our hometown team. And the number ten belonged to Fran Tarkenton, the quarterback of the team at the time, who would eventually end up in the Hall Of Fame.
Mine was maroon with gold and white stripes and the number thirty-two across front and back. I knew the colors instantly, being the huge football fan I was. It was the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins? There must have been some kind of mistake. We were Vikings fans. And who was number thirty-two?
There was no thirty-two who played for the Redskins at that time. It was just a number on a jersey from some team in some city somewhere. It wasn't a different Viking, like maybe Chuck Foreman, or Jim Marshall. Perhaps there might have been an Alan Page jersey available? Or maybe Carl Eller? Heck, even Mick Tinglehoff. Nope. I would spend my formidable years donning the jersey of a make-believe player from I team I cared nothing about.
Even considering the oversight in team and number selection, I loved the jersey nonetheless. I can almost smell the material. I remember how it felt when I took it out of the box. That was more than forty years ago. But these ghosts are powerful.
There are ghosts of Christmases when I was a small child, watching our dad putting the lights on the tree. Mostly I remember the words he used and the expression on my mother's face when I would later repeat those same words. I remember squinting my eyes to make the lights flare or blur, making different shapes with the glowing spots of color. I occasionally still do that today.
There are ghosts from Christmases as a young adult, drinking hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps, playing Trivial Pursuit with my brothers and sisters.
There are ghosts from my first Christmas with my wife, or the first Christmas we spent together at our tiny house in Minneapolis, with a skinny Dr. Seuss tree that was narrow enough to fit in the corner of our minuscule living room.
Many people have lost loved ones around the holidays. Many people have lost a parent or a spouse on Christmas day. I can't imagine what this time of year is like for those whose ghosts serve as cruel reminders of the pain, reminding them of what is missing from their lives.
There are many people who view the holidays as a painful reminder of the emptiness in their lives. There are many people who for whatever reason do not like this time of year. And everywhere they turn, there are reminders: holiday lights, holiday music, holiday specials on the television, the internet, movie theaters, departments stores, you name it.
I consider myself very fortunate this time of year. Sure, I fought with my brothers and sisters when I was younger; I have lost loved ones; I have been alone. Life hasn't always been a big bowl of cherries for me. But this time of year, ever time I am visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, the only sadness I feel is that I can't go back and live it all again, cherishing every moment, knowing that it won't last.
I'm going to go pour myself a cup of eggnog now. I hope all of you have the most wonderful holiday season possible!