Christmas season 2016 is officially open. The nature of the season is nostalgia: the same songs, the same films, the food, the traditions. Comforting to some but disconcerting to those of us who are haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Every year I make quite an effort with the whole Christmas thing but it’s not just the weather that chills me. I feel a kind of internal cold. Every year I do opposite action – I pretend to LOVE Christmas! Every year it backfires. My shiny facade at complete odds with the vacant emptiness inside me. The emptiness is preferable to the memories though.
You know the kind. I’d taken my brothers to Midnight Mass. My parents had remained at home fighting. Mum drunk. Standard. We returned to open presents. I remember her sat on the sofa watching. Wearing a filthy pink dressing gown and a goofy drunken smile. It showed her yellow nicotine teeth. The smell of vodka and cigarettes and urine sticking to her, her own personal perfume. Her eyes closing clumsily. Having to pretend to be happy in such a desperately sad situation; finally being able to escape to bed, to be sad where no one could see and dread the next day. She would either be hungover and hostile or drunk. I can’t remember which it was. My gut says drunk.
Or how about when I accompanied a slightly drunk mum to the late shop? I knew she was going to buy more vodka. For some reason I thought maybe if I was there she mightn’t buy it. Or I could just tell dad when I got home and he’d take it off of her. Yeah, that plan backfired. She bought the vodka. She was served by a girl who had gone to my school. She knew who I was and here was my drunk mum buying more vodka. I felt so pitiful. As we walked home in the dark I was scared, what would I do now? I needn’t have worried. She stopped me in the dark street. I remember the cars driving past. And she said to me “If you tell your dad about this then I will ruin Christmas. I will take everyones’ presents, not just yours, and destroy them. And on Christmas Day when there is nothing I will tell them why: because of you. You will ruin Christmas”. I mean I can’t remember the exact words but that was the gist. Then I was torn as we walked home. What if dad asked if she’d bought vodka? What would I do? I worried in silence the whole way home. The only sound was her raspy smokers breath (it was an uphill walk) and the sound of cars driving past on the damp road. I felt so alone. All these people just driving past. I don’t remember what happened when I got home. I expect I went straight to my room and hid. No one would have checked on me and she would have drunk her vodka. As usual.
This year I’m trying to do things differently, instead of just pretending. Basically I’ll do Christmas my way. Obviously I don’t know what that is so I’m approaching it open minded. So far it’s working. I asked my 3 year old daughter what her Christmas wish was and she told me “marshmallows”. I smiled. It’s perfect. This year on Christmas Eve I hope that we’ll toast marshmallows and drink hot chocolate. Perhaps it’ll become a tradition. The Ghost of Christmas Past will still be around but perhaps the fairylights everywhere, and the warmth of cuddles and toasted marshmallows will help warm the dark chill that She brings.
Really I just wanted to say that if you’ve had a difficult past and feel very alone then you’re not. Christmas has far more ghosts than Hallowe’en. Lots of us are haunted by them.