Ghosts of Christmas Past — or Why I Love and Hate Christmas

Ghosts of Christmas Past — or Why I Love and Hate Christmas

A typical “Peanuts” Countdown to Christmas image

When I was a kid, I both loved and hated the arrival of Christmas. My dad and I had a lot of Christmas traditions: Christmas movie bonanzas, listening to Christmas carols nonstop from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve, counting down Christmas together with the special holiday-edition Snoopy countdown they used to feature in the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin and then later in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  I loved when my dad and I would go out for drives and check out the brightly coloured Christmas lights and decorations in different neighbourhoods. Often we’d stop at a diner for hot chocolate and some cake along the way. In the car, my dad would sing along with Christmas carols on the radio. It didn’t matter which song the DJs played, he knew all of the lyrics (or he was good enough at faking them that I believed they really were the right words to the songs). I still have fond memories of those car rides.

Yup, I know the feeling…

What I don’t have fond memories is the black hole my dad would fall into either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. My dad also suffered from depression, which he thought he was hiding from us. I suspect that he was bipolar though I do not know if he was ever formally diagnosed. His Christmas high was so all-encompassing that you would forget what always followed–the inevitable fall. He wouldn’t get out of bed to eat the special Christmas breakfast my mother prepared or he would disappear for hours and reappear without explaining the long absence. Most times, his mood was even worse than when he left the house. My mother would try to make up for it with forced joviality but the tension was always there. We’d all pretend it wasn’t going on. Friends and family members would come by and we’d keep the facade going. And then by the 26th or the 27th, my dad would be back to normal, though still somewhat subdued. We still walked on eggshells because we didn’t know if anything we said or did would send him back into that black hole.


Yum! Stollen–a yummy Christmas treat

Maybe this is why I find myself feeling a little sad sometimes around Christmas. I love the lights and the spirit of generosity. I hate the frenzy to buy the biggest, best Christmas presents and how people forget that Christmas should be about more than just spending money. I remember what that frenzy did to my dad and how it affected us.

I am glad my husband and I have started our own Christmas traditions. We usually go off on our own to have a quiet Christmas together. Most years, we go to Austria to visit the Christmas markets and eat lots of stollen, drink far too much glühwein and jägertee and then eat far too much goose (for me) and carp (for Tord) before retiring to our hotel room where we read our books we’ve given one another as Christmas presents and laugh at the annual Helene Fischer Christmas show (which is apparently a German/Austrian tradition not to be missed because it’s on every Christmas Day).

This year, we’re staying in Sweden for Christmas. I don’t know how Tord and I will survive this year without Helene Fischer and her celebrity guests making us giggle as they dance and sing their way through old standards. But one thing is certain: Christmas will be relaxing. We will enjoy one another’s company (and probably eat too much and then have to walk it off). And when we spend Christmas our way–instead of with the frenzy that for most people starts on Black Friday and ends on Christmas Day with a present coma–I don’t feel the sadness that Christmas brings for me when I spend it in the US or when I get caught up in the same mania that used to affect my dad.

What about you? Do you get the holiday blues?


  1. Susan Scott Shelley says:

    The happiness and following sadness is something I experience too. And, like you, my memories of the holiday season while growing up are both really wonderful and sad, chaotic, difficult. I so love that you and Tord have your own quiet traditions now.
    I like to keep things as stress-free as possible, and for Christmas, that means keeping things as simple as can be. And even with that, making sure to take time for myself, to recharge.
    Wishing you and Tord a wonderful holiday! *sends hug from Philly*

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