(This post also appears on A Hopeful Sign.)
What inspired Charles Dickens to write about his Ghosts Past, Present and Future? Whatever his own circumstances, he clearly grasped that something about this time of year links us to our own experience through time.
While I don’t know that I would call them “ghosts,” as I make my way around my living room, now decorated for the Holidays, pieces of my own story abound, connecting me with events, memories, and promises of things to come.
Above the fireplace sits a wooden Santa puppet, a gift from Santa himself when I was four. My sister received one too, and the two of us created (and charged for) many puppet shows that Christmas. Years later, my mom revealed how carefully she had shopped for our Santa gifts, taking great pains to make sure that our toys looked as though they were made by Santa’s elves. And every year when I bring out my Santa puppet, part of me still wonders if it wasn’t.
I weave my way around my Christmas tree, telling tales of the ornaments that create a tapestry of my adult life: the cowboy hat purchased on a road trip through Wyoming; a starfish Santa acquired on another to the Oregon coast. Winking at me is a magical ornament that appears to be part elf, part Santa and part pirate, a gift from my mom well over a decade ago. When its pinecone headdress fell off a few years ago to my dismay, a friend with a hot glue gun put it back together, adding to the story of my magical elf.
I was an infant when the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon. As this event occurred in the summer of 1969, it would seem to have nothing to do with the Holidays. But for the 25th Anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, my Grandma Sunny gave me a Christmas ornament of an astronaut that plays the original recording of Neil Armstrong as he stepped on the moon: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”
Along with the ornament was a brief note explaining our connection to this historic night. My mom and dad were visiting my grandparents at their lake cottage in Minnesota. As the astronauts landed on the moon, my mom and grandpa stood on the dock gazing at the moon shining on the lake. From inside the cottage, my dad and grandma watched the lunar landing on television—while my grandma held me in her lap.
I didn’t even know about this story until my grandma gave me this seemingly small gift. Yet the evening now stands out vividly in my mind, as if it’s my own memory.
This ornament remains one of my favorites, and I always smile with anticipation as I plug it in to my Christmas tree. When I watch it light up and play its recording, I think of my grandma and my dad watching the astronauts make history; my grandpa and my mom staring at the moon with amazement; and this momentous evening we all shared.
In the telling of these stories in Christmases present, my past comes not back to haunt me, but to eagerly greet me. This year, I’ll pack away a few additions to surprise me in Christmases future. And future events and circumstances will inevitably weave their way into the re-telling of these tales.
Each year is different as my colorful and eclectic ornaments find a new place on my tree and in my story. So with great delight, I continue to tell their stories, knowing that most of them could tell more than a few about me.