Everywhere I go I’m bombarded by carols telling me to have a holly-jolly Christmas, by ads where smiling families unwrap their gifts under glowing trees and by displays of the latest and greatest. This year, for the first time in my life, I can’t wait for the holidays to be over.
Like the Grinch, I’m balanced on top of Mount Crumpit, trying to find some meaning in Christmas. But so far no one in Whoville is singing.
I go shopping and comb the aisles for something we can afford. I’m surrounded by people buying. I leave with nothing. It’s now three days until Christmas Eve. My husband and I have agreed not to exchange gifts so we can buy the kids a present, but I look at him leaving for work in a ratty sweater to hide the holes in his sleeves, and I want to cry. I’m haunted by all our past Christmases, just as surely as Scrooge.
The Ghost of Christmas Past shows me our old traditions. A favorite was a trip into Seattle to see the gingerbread houses at the Sheraton. Sometimes we’d spend the night at the hotel and take a night carriage ride to see the lights, listening to the clop of hooves on the pavement and watching the steam from the horse’s breath. Or we’d take the kids to the Nutcracker, and I’d tell the story about how I was a snowflake once and my tulle skirt caught and pulled down the scenery as I leapt out on stage. Closer to home we’d have an expedition to cut down a tree that always turns out to be too big for our stand, and we’d take the dog and the kids to buy hot chocolate and drive around to look at Christmas lights. Christmas Day we’d feast on a roast that never cooks on time, and share presents long-distance with our parents and our siblings’ families.
The Ghost of Christmas Present shows me wanting to trade any gifts for a month’s worth of heat. The present is struggling to put something under the tree for the kids. It’s trying to explain to family and friends why we won’t exchange gifts this year. It’s being too busy trying to work to spend time together. It’s buying the roast with food stamps under the cashier’s frown. It’s purchasing baking ingredients to make presents and enduring the litany of EBT comments in my head. It’s sorting through sales items and pretending I can actually buy something, knowing I’m going to leave empty-handed. It’s enduring comments from my stepmother about why I haven’t seen my dad in almost two years, even though he’s recovering from lung cancer. I can’t bring myself to tell them we’re on food stamps and I can’t afford a plane ticket.
I hope Christmas Future is better. This one I just want to be over. I know I’m supposed to find greater meaning. That the purpose of Christmas is to celebrate Christ’s birth. I know I have blessings beyond many, many people, and I’m grateful. But in truth, I feel like I’m mourning something lost. I want to buy my kids presents and see their expressions when they open them. I want the strain leave my husband’s face and to quit feeling guilty because he never complains. I want to hear my daughter play in the school Christmas concert and feel something besides stress. I need the Whos to start singing.