“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days.” – Charles Dickens
It’s almost here! Christmas is circling my house, clapping its hands in eager anticipation. The tree is up, the presents are in hiding, and the carols are queued up on my phone. Outside, the fresh-fallen snow adds a clean beauty to the streets, and everyone seems just a little more friendly to strangers.
Christmas is an odd time of year in Canada. Although we no longer collectively celebrate the birth of Christ, still the season carries a difference. Some would argue it’s been reduced to the triumph of corporate greed, others that it remains for family and generosity, but both these theories ring hollow to me. Why do we binge fanatically on the same old Christmas movies, eat the same food, listen to the same music, and follow the same traditions year after year?
In short, because we are remembering.
In a world that’s lunging forward at a hectic pace, grasping at one more upgrade before hurling itself into the abyss, Christmas is a time to look back. We cling to traditions not because we find such original inspiration in them. (Really, we’re never shocked that Christmas doesn’t come from a store, that Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.) We learn nothing new. We glean no new insights. We are surprised only by the gift (maybe) that we unwrap. And that’s exactly the point.
Ironically, despite the frantic race to buy new things, Christmas is actually about the opposite: old things, old years, old memories. Am I the only one that finds the merriment of Christmas wrapped around a warm melancholy of remembrance?
I’ve just set up my Christmas tree. It’s green and glowing, alive with joy, decked out like a bride. But already dying. It’s needles are stiffening, its fragrance fading, its colour turning. Like our present moment, it is passing from now to then, from experience to memory. Next Christmas will bring a new tree, and new joys, but not this tree or this joy. With this tree are bound up the moments of this Christmas. And so to me, a Christmas tree is beautiful and merry and yes, also sad.
But there is something good about this sadness. It reminds us to stop. Remember. Christmas always reminds me of my mom. She loved Christmas and poured herself into it with giddy delight. At Christmas morning, the coffee table would be groaning with candy, the tree spilling with presents like a cornucopia. It was wonderfully ridiculous! A celebration of abundance! I may not remember every gift I opened, but I do remember my mom’s beaming face and child-like joy, happy to give, to love, to be.
Every Christmas, I am reminded to look back, to remember people who are gone, joys that are now memories, shared times and cherished spaces. And in so doing, I hope I learn better how to drink the present joys before they too are gone, to be won back, just for a moment, to the “delusions” of my childish days.