I’m driving – not exactly driving home for Christmas, as in the beautiful song by Chris Rea, but on one of the many errands I have to do during this busy season. As usual at this time of the year I put on Christmas songs, the inevitable Last Christmas by Wham and Chris Rea’s as well – and I sing along. The weather is fine – one of those sunny crisp cold (but not too much) winter days that make you feel happy just for being alive.
My hands grab the wheel and my eyes focus on the road ahead of me but my mind strays to other Christmases of long ago. Inevitably, a nostalgic feeling invades me and I wonder why I always feel like this, year after year.
It seems most of my Christmases have always included this feeling that something, or someone, is missing. The only perfect Christmases of my life were those of my childhood, with the whole family together, in our beloved house with the lush garden and swimming pool, when my brother and I believed it was Santa Claus who brought us the presents and the atmosphere was full of magic. Later Christmases, after having to leave our homeland, were pale in comparison with those early ones and we missed happier times. Then, as years went by, I missed those Christmas of my youth; I know I’m a sentimental soul but I couldn’t help it. Then Christmases were magical again for a few years during my boys’ childhood, when we were still together as a family. Then the cruel reality of divorce – even if a very friendly one – changed our lives and Christmas had to be divided between two houses and two “families”, making way for inevitable moments of loneliness to set in.
In fact, to be honest I felt lonely a long time before my divorce – I remember going Christmas shopping by myself and longingly looking at the couples who passed me by, who seemed so happy and so close to each other, walking on the streets hand in hand, coming in and out of the shops and exchanging secrets and smiles. How many times had I felt like having that strong hand on mine, that loving smile, that warm feeling in my heart as I looked at the bright Christmas lights and listened to the Christmas songs playing on the street… but the only thing I had on my hands was an increasing quantity of shopping bags, getting heavier and heavier and the feeling of loneliness in my heart.
Maybe I have always been too independent – it is a fact that I enjoy being by myself and doing things alone , including Christmas shopping – but occasionally I wonder if it’s not too much; sometimes I feel I could do with some help and wish I would have some company so that we might sit down at a café, loaded with bags and tired of so much walking and waiting in queues before the counter, to enjoy a delicious mug of hot chocolate and look at the dark outside and feel warm and loved; and then only then, enjoy the true spirit of Christmas – not knowing how to describe it, but recognising when you are feeling it. As I did when I went Christmas shopping downtown with Mom, so many years ago, and came out of the subway only to feel the delicious smell of roasting chestnuts…
I shake my head at so many memories and try to concentrate on my driving. On Christmas day this feeling of loneliness will disappear, as it does every year. Nostalgic feelings for times gone by and loved ones who are no longer here will remain, but they will be less painful. The boys will come home and in the evening the house will be invaded – in the good sense of the word – by family and friends who come to celebrate my birthday with me. The house will be full of voices and bright Christmas lights and delicious smells and my heart will be filled with joy.
And then when the last of my guests has left and everyone at home has gone to bed, I take a last look at the Christmas tree before turning off the lights and I shake off the last traces of the loneliness and nostalgic feelings I have had these last few days, although I know this is not a farewell. They will always come back to haunt me, and in the end I will let them in as they are part of this season. When they come again I will embrace them; I will welcome the ghost of other Christmases and let him take me on a journey through the past; I will smile as I see the dear faces of my father, my Grandparents, Uncle Jorge…I will see myself reading a Christmas story to my boys when they were small, their heads leaning on my shoulders, and so many pictures of other, happy Christmases will parade inside my head…and now I smile, because this Christmas just gone by has already become a happy memory too, and I am so grateful for it, so grateful for being able to create great new memories every Christmas.
I silently close the door and whisper “Until this time, next year”.