Posted by: Hannah | 12/10/2010

the ghost of Christmas past

I love Christmas.

See?  It’s snowing on my blog.  And that’s just cheesy and silly.  But it’s snowing on my blog anyway because I love Christmas, and we haven’t had any real snow here yet.

One of our local radio stations has gone to an all-holiday music format, 24 hours a day, for the whole month of December.  I play it all day long.  Or at least until hubby gets home from work.

Ah, hubby.

He is one of nature’s holiday haters.  To wit:

  • First, he’d rather celebrate winter solstice.  Or Saturnalia.  Or Hogswatch.  Anything but Christmas, really – and if one must have it, please spell it with an “X”.
  • Second, Xmas must always mean presents you don’t want but are forced to write thank you notes for anyway.
  • Third, mother must always have a screaming tantrum mid-afternoon because no one properly appreciates just how much work it is to put on a happy Xmas.
  • Fourth, Xmas music is annoying, trees need watering and drop needles everywhere, and putting up outdoor lights just means you need to take them down again.
  • Fifth, trying to surprise your wife with a Xmas gift takes too much effort, so it is always preferable to tell your wife what you’ve bought for her in mid-December, and then wrap it and put it under the tree anyway. (Yes, this has happened every single year so far – and the only reason he hasn’t told me what he bought me this year is because I threatened him with a rolling pin).
  • Sixth, stockings are stupid.  Unless he’s getting one, in which case they are awesome.  But he should never have to stuff one.

It’s been a rough decade, trying to enjoy my favourite holiday while living with a pre-heart expanded Grinch.  With Scrooge before he had his conversion and stood on his head for happiness.  With Mr. Shirley when he decided to revoke bonuses and sign everyone up for the Jelly of the Month club.

So last year, when hubby’s father died just before Christmas after a protracted and painful battle with lymphoma, I will admit to the anonymity of the internet that a tiny part of my brain was horrified that there would be yet one more reason for the dear man to hate the holiday season.

And yes, it’s been hard.  Last week we got a Christmas card addressed to my father-in-law, with a handwritten note inside saying that the sender hoped he was well and happy.  That was tough.  I had to call directory assistance to get their phone number – because I’d never heard of these people – and tell them he had died a year ago.  And their response was “oh, I didn’t know.  I will note that for next year.  Guess there isn’t anything else to say.  Season’s Greetings” followed by a dial tone.

I have to admit, that took the starch out of my desire to send cards this year.

I know that when I get five minutes to think, I remember this time last year, wondering if FIL would make it to Christmas, if he would be out of the hospital for the presents.  I’d already done his shopping for him and wrapped the gifts he’d bought the boys.  I had my doubts that he would be able to eat Christmas dinner, but at that point I didn’t doubt he’d make it at least through the holidays.  He loved Christmas and I knew if he could hang on for one last time, he would.

Sadly, when he went down, it happened fast.  December 17th he was hospitalized, and we sat a vigil until he died in his sleep just past midnight on December 20th.

We put on a happy face for the sake of the children.  And we got through it.

This year, I am genuinely happy.  My Christmas spirit is stronger than it’s been in years.  I have a to-do list that’s so long it has sub-lists and a timeline (truly); I’m busy working right up to Christmas Eve; my shopping is nowhere near done and my tree is up but naked… and yet, I’m content.  The stress that has marked previous Christmases is just gone, leaving quietly and almost unremarked.  And hubby seems OK too.  Sad yes, wistful yes, but getting into the spirit of things better than I’ve ever seen him.

Scoff if you want.  That’s OK.  I know it sounds trite.  But FIL is here, all around me.  I can feel his spirit boosting us all up, helping us make new memories for our smaller family, guiding us to a place where the holiday season is not defined by his death, but enriched by the example of his life – a life not always lived well, but always from a strong desire to build bonds with friends and family.

It’s the best gift he could have given me.

I miss him.

I love you, man.  I know that wherever you are, the food is plentiful, the jazz plays all day long, and you have no memory of cancer.



  1. Hey Hannah,
    What a wonderful post and a wonderful way to remember your FIL as the anniversary of his death draws near. I get where you’re coming from on this one. Somehow, all my Christmas losses over the years have made the holiday more magical and more focused for me as well. I popped a card in the mail to you today. I hope it makes you smile.

  2. Scoff? Not at all. Get yourself the Vince Guaraldi christmas album on iTunes, if you guys play music on an iPod….

    It’s quite possibly the best and loveliest, most smiley yet thoughtful christmas jazz ever recorded. I can promise you it’ll make all of you smile, the kids included. Just so simple and stripped-back and, of course, in the spirit of Charlie Brown.

    My grandmother collapsed in our kitchen last Christmas Day, just after supper. She was taken by ambulance to palliative care that night, and died a few weeks later. It’s tough, loss being tangled up with a holiday that’s filled with (or should be filled with) indulgence and excess and celebration. But in other ways, I wonder if it’s not the best kind of tangle. We are forced to put lights up, to wrap presents, to once again lose the scotch tape no matter how many rolls we buy. And to eat the same foods we’ve eaten since long before we could remember. It’s a celebration of life, and it is, more than anything else, for kids. That’s the magic. And I think that’s the greatest gift, even despite loss. To surround painful memories with the screeching that ensues when a gigantic lego box is unearthed from under the tree.

    That’s not any sort of forgetting, or brushing-aside of grief. Smiling and eating and festooning the kids with discarded ribbons.. that’s honouring him. He’ll sense it, in some way, and you’ll all sense him. Beautiful, H. Thinking of you and the family. xo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: