The ghosts of Christmas

When I was a child, I was fascinated by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas carol. At first, still very young, I was terrified of Scrooge and the ghosts, then I was interested and later, much later, in my turn reading it to my children, it made me ponder on the reasons why Christmas stirs such strong emotions in most of us; I cannot think of one person who is indifferent to Christmas – they either love this season, or hate it.

Today I was feeling part of the last group, and even if after the crisis started I significantly reduced the number of gifts I buy – just to look at the list then would stress me, and I would begin shopping before the end of November – I still have to buy a few gifts; I don’t have much time, so at lunchtime I hurriedly took the tube to El Corte Inglés. I gulped down a sandwich (by a stroke of luck there was this only vacant table with an only chair) and came back in a hurry again, full of bags and with my arms and my back aching because they were heavy.

The afternoon was insufferable, first with a call from my mother with a problem I was supposed to solve and then with a meeting during which I feel I made a fool of myself. Then as I arrived home (with all the bags again…) and looked at the Christmas tree and decoration boxes piled up in the hall, waiting for me to unpack them and do all the setting up and decorating, I felt whatever little Christmas spirit that remained within me evaporating.

Then, inevitably, my Christmas ghosts made a show of appearance.

As with Scrooge, first came the ghost of Christmas past. I remembered the Christmas of my childhood back in Mozambique, sunny, warm Christmases in the summer. I remember our beautiful house, the huge Christmas tree in the living room and all the excitement of Christmas morning as my brother and I came running down the stairs and saw all the gifts waiting there for us…in addition to the Christmas gifts I had my birthday gifts as my birthday is on Christmas day. Our parents and grandparents would join us and kiss us and wish “Merry Christmas” and of course to me they would add “Happy birthday my darling”. Then we would play with our new toys for the rest of the day. We’d always have our family and some friends for lunch and it would be a grand occasion. We’d have turkey, and codfish, and many fried sweets, typical of the season…we’d also have typical Madeira delicacies, bearing witness of our ancestors who had come from that island to Mozambique in the beginning of the 20th century…then the ghost showed me later and sadder Christmases, after leaving our homeland because of the independence and coming to live in Lisbon. As much as we were together and celebrated Christmas, it was never the same again for any of us. But we were all still there together, and for us young people there was a whole life ahead of us.

Soon the ghost of past Christmases showed me another very merry Christmas, when I was expecting my first child – with a big tummy but so happy: I remember talking to my boy and telling him about our next – his first – Christmas. And when it came it was so perfect – he already saw the lights, felt the excitement, his beautiful big blue eyes staring at the tree, at the balls, at the lights. Then the following Christmases, until the one I came back home with a new baby, my second boy, who was born just a few days before Christmas because I didn’t want him to share my fate…and so asked my doctor to deliver him a few days before. He was so small, only six days old, but still we brought him downstairs to be with us and “enjoy” the party. His brother was very attentive to him and wanted him to have his gift just like everybody and we just felt happy because he was not jealous, on the contrary, we was very welcoming to his brother and also very protective.

I remember Christmases when I had solidarity in my heart and I went to buy clothes  for a home for children who didn’t have a family, and then we’d go there with the boys to deliver our gifts and meet the children who lived there. I remember having the whole family together, my mother and grandparents, my mother in law and my husband’s granny, and even a few years when my brother and I had made peace and managed to spend Christmas together again as when we were young…

The ghost of Christmas past lingers. He shows me so many Christmas days, in the evening, when my best friends come for dinner to celebrate my birthday – a tradition repeated year after year that has made my Christmases merrier. I remember the first Christmas after my separation – the first Christmas eve without my sons, as from then on and forever Christmases have to be divided between mother and father…but also the hidden excitement of the first Christmas with a new love, meeting in secret on a cold windy beach and wishing merry Christmas to each other and holding tight.

The ghost of Christmas past brings so many stories, but most of all he brings back the people I have loved, who have loved me and are now gone – my godfather, my grandparents, my father, my dear “uncle” (not a real one, but the father of my oldest friend and one of the very best); this ghost shows me my life, a happy one full of happenings, some good, some not so good, but with so many lessons learned. And so many beautiful, happy moments lived through.

I suddenly come back to the present, as the ghost of this Christmas steps in and that of the past fades away. As I again look at the pile of boxes in the entrance I try to summon the ghost of Christmas future, but unlike Scrooge I can’t. I try to picture myself doing the Christmas tree with my grandchildren, older, hopefully more serene, cooking my special codfish dish (Granny’s recipe) and gathering at the table my sons, their wives and my darling grandchildren whom I’ll love so much, no doubt…maybe Nuno and I will have married by then, older and wiser and without today’s worries to make life together difficult…will it be like that? I cannot say. The ghost of Christmas future has shown but a flash but he has left. Was it him or just my imagination? I don’t really know and I honestly don’t care. Who wants to know the future when we have the present? I’m healthy, my boys are healthy, and we have a good life and much to be thankful for.

As I write these words my younger son, my Christmas baby, who has been studying for tomorrow’s Maths test, puts on some music and comes into my room dancing and enjoying the music. As I look at him, looking so cool, in such a good mood, almost 17 – next week, a few days before Christmas – I feel so happy, so joyful, so full of Christmas spirit…I forget about the shopping, the boxes piled up in the entrance, the day at work…the doorbell rings and it’s my elder son, coming from his rugby training – I hear his beautiful voice, he’s in great spirits…I have to rush, he’ll be famished, he always comes home capable of eating an entire bull…

As for my Christmas ghosts, I’ll keep them all. They are all part of my life. But for the time being I suppose I’ll stick to the ghost of Christmas present. After all, I have so many wonderful things to look for this Christmas.

Tomorrow, for the first time this year, I’ll put on my Christmas cd in the car, and go to work singing my two favourite songs “Last Christmas” by Wham and “Driving home for Christmas” by Chris Rea.

Christmas season is now officially open for me.




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