the Ghost of Christmas Past

With the upcoming holiday season rapidly approaching, I have a tendency to find myself basking in the nostalgic emotion of Christmas past. I come from a divorced family, which doesn't really bother me as I believe that if my parents hadn't divorced when they did, one of them would probably have been murdered by the other by now. And, of course, this meant I always had 2 Christmases. Custody rules stated that my parents took turns each year for the privilege of my company on Christmas Day. Up until the age of 9 years old, my parents lived in the same town, and this allowed me to share the holidays evenly. Traditionally, my mom's Christmases would consist of a quiet family dinner with my Meemaw and my brother, opening gifts and playing, until 6 pm on Christmas Eve. Then, I would be transferred to my dad's and await anxiously the glorious next morning when Santa would have left me a bag full of presents. This was followed by a short trip down HWY 49 to Waldenburg, Arkansas where we would proceed to open gifts with the entire Davis family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, great grandparents, and of course, Papaw and Yayo. They were the staple of these holiday gatherings.

Sixteen years ago, my Meemaw died of pneumonia. Immediately after, my mom moved me and my brother to Houston, Texas where we began our own lives away from the pain of her childhood in northeast Arkansas. Around the same time, my dad took a job in Mississippi and through the years traveled to New Orleans, Florida, and Michigan. Holidays were quite different and much more quiet. The years with my mom were usually me and her alone and we would go to the mall with a spending limit and I would pick out my presents, then we would go home and wrap them up for Christmas Day. My dad's Christmases also involved his wife and my sisters, and eventually his new wife, her kids, my sisters, and their son, and sometimes Papaw and Yayo would meet us wherever we were as well. Santa came like clockwork for years and I imagine he still does as my littlest brother is only 9.

When I was 14 we moved back to Arkansas and my mom and I were close as ever, but now my dad would come home to Papaw and Yayo's house for Christmas, along with aunts, uncles, and cousins, so I could again be with both parents on the holidays. Life was good and I had a great family to whom I was very close.

Then six years ago, two things happened. One, I moved away to college, which seems in my memory, the beginning of my maturity into adulthood. Two, my Yayo passed away with breast cancer. Since then, my Papaw, and literally the entire Davis family has been torn apart. My dad and my aunts don't communicate, my Papaw is depressed at the holidays and shuts himself into his house. The first couple of years, he still put up his tree and lights. Now, the only glow from his house is the blue reflection from late night Steven Seagal movies on TNN. My aunt and uncle, the ones without kids, make a point to schedule their vacation each year for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.

Now, I am married and we are beginning to adjust to the actual stress of fitting everyone into the few days we have off work at Christmas, so that noone feels left out. My celebrations no longer revolve just around mom and dad, but both them and Ryan's family. We are building new traditions, and schedules, and memories and although they are wonderful, I can't help but remember the holidays with my family as a child. The warmth, the comfort, the happiness, the security in knowing that a couple days a year everyone I loved would come together and share their time. Those days seem so different now, and new people in my life are sharing my holiday happiness: my husband, his family, my brother's wife and children... In fact, I haven't even been with my dad on Christmas Day since my first year of college and unfortunately, that year I came down with pneumonia and slept through Christmas.

I wonder if this is all a part of growing up. If the evolution of your family is natural or simply caused by emotional loss and petty disagreements. I have cousins all over the country, some I haven't seen in years, but I remember the games we played as children and I know that I will always have those memories that mean so much to me now. My nucleus of a family is beginning to split into many small families that each have their own agendas and obligations at Christmastime. I had no idea as a child that one day my family would change so much, and the security I felt was so innocent. I suppose that naivety is what brings the excitement to holidays in the first place. The idea that for a couple days a year, everyone is happy, and in love, and together, regardless of anything. As an adult, I now understand the sadness at holidays too, where as a child, everything was happy. Now there are different faces in my holidays, some new family by marriage or birth, some missing by the natural cycle of life, and some emotionally changed by the evolution of the family, but at least for a couple days, these faces are warm, and in love, and together, and in the end, I guess that's all that really matters.