The Ghosts of Christmas


I’m being visited by the ghost of Christmas past.  And all I recall was one endless party.  So my ghost appeared as the fat god of wine, feasting and dancing. Buffet spreads and costume parties. Suddenly, there were a wealth of uncles and aunts, and cousins popped up again.  And all you had to do was plant kisses and be adorable answering questions, so you can go home with crispy 5, 10 and 20 bills.  I remember rehearsing for weeks for the dance of the Crayolas and the Three Little Pigs play.  You started as a pig, till you graduate to props-man who held blankets for the pigs’ makeshift home.  Why we staged the Three Little Pigs and not the Nativity was a sure sign that our Christmas was a story of indulgence. I don’t even remember the solemnity of Christmas. There was a midnight mass and images of wearing red dresses, having to sit through never-ending singing. That and wanting to hurry home so presents can be opened and I can have Tablea, ensaimada and jamon. It was the season of extravagance, and the best time to ask for fancy things.  I had written Santa for a bike and he delivered. So every year I got bolder: a camera; an electric organ; a television set, and even a refrigerator.  Every year, wish granted.  I wonder how Santa would have managed, if I pretended a few years more, and progressed to diamonds and shoes. I’m certain my kind should always be in Santa’s Naughty List.  Christmas was one lavish feast, and there was only room for the god of wine, banquet and song. Still, that was how we made merry, that was how we celebrated peace, hope and love.

And as that ghost lingered, I considered Christmas present.  What memory of Christmas do I wish for my children? How do I bestow them bits and pieces that would develop into a tradition I’d be proud of?

As a friend said, you’re handed a blank slate. Mothers can imagine a new Christmas and give it life. Give my children pictures they can grow with from year to year. Leave impressions. I don’t have to do the same old. I could retain what I like, blot out shadows, forge new traditions, and even make it up as I go along.

And so the slate is being filled anew. Kept time with family, those parties I have joyful memories of, shaped a better version of the Crayolas’ dance and rewrote the Christmas play (the three adorable pigs will have to step aside for more meaningful stories.) There are still candy canes and gingerbread cookies to eat. I still fancy stockings and presents under the tree.  There’s less frenzy though Christmas songs, including the racket, will always be part of our repertoire. Still, I’m not taking them to watch Gangnam Style. Neither will they have to kiss ninongs nor sit in Santa’s lap, for a wad of bills or 1st place in the Nice and Naughty list.  

I don’t want to dictate Advent or Christmas on my children and I do hope they don’t see my newfound traditions as dogma. I’ve sat through enough Christmas tableaus and masses of my own. But, I aspire for them to have an experience of the season, as days darken and the light can be kindled. So, every night, we have lighted a candle (then 2, 3 and 4), sang a song, and read a story. It’s a tiny moment of stillness, and they listen quietly to stories of Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, as they play out from day to day. And every morning, there’s something wonderfully new at the table. Not another gift. But bit-by-bit, something magical: a crystal, a shell, a cone, a flower, little sheep, a shepherd, the donkey, Joseph and Mary, and then finally on Christmas, the Christ Child. Friends have laughed at the silliness of our incomplete Belen. But, I want my children to wonder, marvel and have reverence for the nativity, and not see it as the décor I used to mess and amuse myself with. Perhaps, without insisting it to them in abstract concepts (that leave them bored at mass sitting through a meaningless song) they could sense the unfolding of Christmas. And perhaps, they could sense that something grand is approaching, and that we are deliberately making the space for it. 

Our newfound traditions are not perfect, but they’re ours. And they have been lovingly shaped, from year to year. Now, this is how we make merry. Now, this is how we celebrate peace, hope and love. Our tree’s alive. And we’ve adorned our home with wreaths and cones, and little handmade bells, balls, canes, stars and angels. And when Christmas arrives, they will behold the red roses on our tree, and see red flowers everywhere, so they can sense heaven and nature singing.

And yes, there will be a feast on Christmas. My ghost of Christmas past is always welcome to visit. But now I’m hoping there’s ample room for the divine being as well.  There’s a gift of the Light, and a gift of Love. And it happens every Christmas. I wish my children remember those two, and not just the gifts under the tree or one endless party.

(I have Waldorf Education to thank and friends who have led the way. Books that have really helped: Celebrating Festivals with Children by Freya Jaffke and Festivals with Children by Brigitte Barz.) 

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