Christmas comes and goes so fast, and it’s never like it used to be.
I say the same thing every year—“Christmas isn’t like when we were kids.” And I’m not even a crotchety old man yet.
Or am I?
It seems like every holiday to me is about trying to duplicate joy from a previous season.
Getting the Sears catalog (which used to be the size of a phone book) to find good gift ideas for the family (and me), my mom and dad taking the family to “A Christmas Carol” at the Glendale Centre Theatre, family gatherings from my childhood with my grandparents—who are all gone now—are fond memories I have of Christmastime.
But was it really better back then?
You bet it was better back then. And yeah, I used to walk uphill in the snow to and from school, too. Even the bad times during the holidays back then—the boring school assemblies hours before we got out for winter break or the arguments between family members—were good times.
Back in October I wrote a column about Italian-American Heritage Month and the big gatherings my Italian family used to have when I was growing up. A reader wrote in about how the story kindled fond memories of his own family gatherings.
This reader, Robert, wrote that he and his wife, Laura, came to California in 1964 and raised three children in the same home. Sadly, in 2014, after 56 years of marriage, Laura lost a battle with lung cancer, and Robert’s home and the holidays haven’t been the same since.
Pictures all over Robert’s walls, including literally over 100 enlarged shots of Laura, bring back memories of his wife and so many joyous times of the past, from when they were teenagers dating to their three kids’ weddings, which all took place in the home’s backyard.
There are photographs in the living room, the dining room and the bedrooms, down the halls and even in the kitchen.
“The grandkids named this house ‘Grammyland,’” Robert said. There’s even a banner on one of the walls pronouncing “Grammyland.”
During my visit to Robert’s home, my host led me through the place, and picture-by-picture he told me some really wonderful stories of his life.
“It seems like things are never as good as they used to be,” I said to him.
“The world we knew,” he told me, “is different than the world now.”
He talked about missing loved ones, especially Laura, but he explained that grief is not a condition. It can be cured, he said. It just has to be managed.
And maybe that’s why it was better back then. We miss the people that color our memories, people who are no longer with us, and we dwell on that whether we’re conscious of it or not.
As a kid, we can only be excited and happy with the holidays because, for most of us at that age, everyone there with us has been with us every year.
My son, 14, disagreed.
“No, it’s still not as good as it used to be,” he told me. “When I was a kid, remember how I used to not have school finals the week before Christmas? Those were the good ol’ days.”
Good ol’ days or not, each year we plan holiday gatherings, even if there’s no way we can duplicate joy from years past. We decorate the house, we listen to Christmas music, we buy gifts for each other, we watch holiday movie classics— we honor past traditions.
“But if it’s never as good as it was before,” my son asked, “then why do you go through all the work?”
“Because I love this time of year,” I said.
My new friend Robert said he does, too. It’s a time that brings us closest, he said, to those no longer with us.