Maybe Charles Dickens got it right after all.
I’ve never been one to believe in ghosts, but the holidays always make me start questioning that assumption.
As Ebenezer Scrooge was visited one by one by spirits on that fateful Christmas Eve, we too receive our own ghostly visitors this time of year in the form of powerful memories.
Christmas is nothing if not a time of memory – both making them and looking back upon the ones we hold dear. All of our traditions, habits, myths and dreams of the holiday season are bound up in them for better or for worse.
More than any other time of the year those memories of days gone by and places and times we can never visit again come floating to the surface of our minds to unexpectedly clamp themselves around our hearts.
This year will be my fourth holiday season without my mother and my sixth without my father. I was blessed to grow up in a home with parents who made the holidays special for the child I once was, in spite of the difficulties they battled I’m now able to see through the eyes of an adult.
Their memories are never closer to me than when the wind begins to turn chill and the lights appear on the trees. I can close my eyes and smell the kitchen where mom prepared the holiday meal, hear the warmth of her voice and see the love in the way she always looked at me – a woman who saw the best in the child I was and the man I became no matter my actual flaws or failures.
I can hear my dad’s laughter and his childlike wonder at the holidays. I can smell the wood smoke as he built a fire in that old iron stove on Christmas morning and feel the love in his hands as he helped me put together some new toy. I can see and feel the strength of his love for me and the love he held so so deeply for my mother that held our family together through the years.
The line between memory and reality gets thinner this time of year as I think of them and others who have gone on and even as I look at my own two young teenagers and recall the simple wonder and innocence of their toddler and little kid years when Christmas was far more magical through their eyes.
William Faulkner once wrote in a far different context, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” His sentiment never feels more true than when the holidays roll around.
The past, those we love and those precious memories are never really gone. They wait, lurking beneath the surface of every ornament and light on every tree, every note of every carol sung and every word of each heartfelt wish of “Merry Christmas”.
I may not believe in ghosts, but I do believe the Ghost of Christmas Past is very real this time of year. He lives somewhere deep inside us all, but he’s not the evil spirit sent to convince old Ebenezer of his wicked ways but rather a benevolent voice that amplifies the echoes of those warm days gone by and of the memories of those who have gone on before and the intense and powerful love they gave while alive which continues to touch our hearts as the skies turn gray, the temperatures fall and the calendar moves inexorably toward another Christmas and the ending of another year.
As we get older those are the memories that sustain us and it becomes our responsibility to create them for those we ourselves love so when they too trod the path of life’s inevitable aging they can reach back and find warmth in the years they spent with us and know they were loved deeply and without reservation.
The past is never more real and never more near than during the holidays. If we embrace and hold it close maybe, as Faulkner said, it’s not even really past at all.
Brant Sappington is a longtime member of the Daily Corinthian news family. He currently serves as managing editor of the Corinthian’s sister newspaper, Booneville’s Banner-Independent, and as assistant editor of the Corinthian.