Ghost of Christmas Past
We are not a religious family, but when the girls were little we fully embraced all of the secular pleasures of the Christmas season. I decorated two trees and carefully arranged a porcelain Christmas village, Kevin strung lights around our porch, and the girls and I baked cookies and rolled old-fashioned sugar plums. Visiting Santa, driving around town enjoying Christmas lights, and watching holiday Christmas shows were essential elements of the holiday season at the McDermott house in Springfield. Perhaps our family’s most favorite holiday tradition was seeing a new show at the movie theater on Christmas Day after eating cinnamon rolls and opening our gifts.
As the girls got a little older and wanted money to buy their own gifts, we started taking short shopping trips during Christmas week, visiting St. Louis or Chicago instead of staying at home. One year we spent the holiday at sea on a Caribbean cruise and in another we lounged on a Florida beach and had oysters for Christmas dinner. When I look at Christmas photos from the past, I feel a pang of nostalgia for those years when my girls were sweet babies, but those photos make me smile. I accepted some time ago that my years as a mother of children are behind me, and those sweet memories do not make me sad. Pictures and memories from last Christmas, however, are another story. In 2013, for the first time since Savannah moved abroad, the four of us were together for Christmas. While I appreciated it then, I really had no earthly idea just how precious that Christmas would be to us. I am so grateful we had that holiday, but I am shaken by the reality that there will be no others.
Ghost of Christmas Present
December 25, 2014, is the day that we were supposed to pick up Mackenzie at the airport from her semester abroad in Spain. I would have spent this week before Christmas eagerly anticipating her arrival. I would have cleaned and organized her room, purchased all of her favorite junk food and a case of Gatorade, and strung some holiday lights on the balcony. I had planned to roast a ham and a huge pan of cheesy potatoes (Mack’s favorite holiday meal) and bake a batch of oatmeal cranberry cookies that she always craved. I was going to have a new pair of Ugg moccasins for her to open and was planning to present her with several goofy gifts, all individually wrapped with excessive amounts of tape just to aggravate her.
I figured we’d sit for a couple of hours at the dining room table, eating too much and drinking some wine while she regaled us with her stories. I know most of them would have been so funny, focused on all of the little difficulties she had encountered and the mistakes she had made in Spain. After dinner, we would have settled into the over-sized leather chairs in front of the TV with snacks to watch “Christmas Story,” and Mack would have recited much of the dialogue and said “Fra-gee-lay” a hundred times.
I was expecting a quiet, but special Christmas. Instead, this year there will be no Christmas. Instead, this year we will all pass the holiday season without our Mack. Savannah and Levi will spend Christmas week in Morocco; and Kevin and I are heading to New Orleans. We all hope to find some joy and some peace to fill the terrible void that is left in our hearts without the zaniest and most spirited member of our little family.
Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
Throughout my life, I have really enjoyed the holiday season. Except for Christmas music, which I have to admit I detest, I love the lights and the greenery, the food and the giving, and the festive spirit of a winter celebration. And even though I am not up to celebrating this year, I have been searching high and low to see if the enjoyment of Christmas going forward is even possible. In thinking about how to find joy in my Christmases yet to come, which seems an impossible task in my current state of grief, I keep thinking about Ebenezer Scrooge. By confronting his past and his present and getting a glimpse of the bleak years ahead of him, even the hardened, hateful Scrooge was able to make a brighter future for himself.
At the end of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wrote that Scrooge “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” If Scrooge can hope, then perhaps I can as well. I know that the sweet little girls of my Christmases past are gone. I know that my Christmas present will be sorrowful. But I hope that my Christmases yet to come will be happy and special; and I can tell you for certain, that I will never pass another without my beautiful Savannah. So perhaps, like Scrooge, I will possess the knowledge (and the spirit) to keep Christmas well next year and for all of my years to come.