25 December 2017

Thoughts on Christmas

Every Christmas ghost is a Ghost of Christmas past.

The holiday itself represents a break with the past – a new covenant – in the form of Christ as redeemer, Christ as savior, Christ as a living and suffering God-made-flesh.

It's the movement of the Old Testament YHWH from throwing his hands up and scorching or flooding the Earth to the New Testament God trying to figure out why His creations are so muddled, why the gift of free will can lead to such misery, why these humans made in His image cannot quite seem to live up to the standard and choose instead to bayonet each other's children and destroy the Earth, most painfully, in His name.

That's one approach, anyway. In that approach are arguments about pronouns, intended audiences, the Church, the crusades, Hellenic contact, translations, language, and a dazzling, dizzying array of hermeneutical circles.

Is it better? Worse? I don't know. Ask me on a day when I haven't read the news or opened Twitter and the subway runs on time with seats for everyone and I might have an answer for you.

In Travels With My Aunt, Graham Greene writes, “Christmas it seems to me is a necessary festival; we require a season when we can regret all the flaws in our human relationships: it is the feast of failure, sad but consoling.”

The feast of the Ghost of Christmas Past. The feast of things done and left undone, as believers mutter and whisper in confession.

For those who celebrate Christmas – or even those who ignore it outright or take to it with a more secular approach – the past shows up in memories of it. Of one's personal failings. Of other people's failings. The thanks we never got and the resentment it engendered. The letters we never wrote and the guilt that still festers. The things we gave as gifts... with conditions and footnotes attached. The things we took and forgot to express thanks for. The calls we cannot – or stubbornly will not – make anymore. The pride that keeps us from asking forgiveness and for granting it, even when not asked.

And of course, there's the season itself, ushered in by the longest night, giving way to the coldest days. More time to consider, regret, by thankful. More time to spend thinking.

Thinking about the people not here now who were here last year.
And wondering about the ones here this year who won't be next year.

And so it goes, until we slip from remembering to remembered; from forgetting to forgotten, from spring to whatever certain uncertainty lies beyond the winter's pale: each of us a Ghost of Christmas Past in the making.