December 23rd – the day my dads side does Christmas every year. I drive an hour. The house always smells so good: a huge prime rib, scalloped potatoes, great grandmothers jam cake, warm custard. The house is decorated with simple decorations of red and gold. The cherry table is covered with a white linen cloth this night. The tableware is fine white china featuring Santa and his sleigh. The red cloth napkins are folded with precision and placed into ceramic holders my grandmother made: They compliment the boughs of holly that hang from the brass chandelier. Tall red, hand-dipped candles inside crystal cylinders set the room a glow. Across from the formal dining room is a den where the family gathers before and after dinner. On a cherry end table sits a nativity scene that my grandmother made. There were the usual Mary and Joseph, the manger and baby Jesus. Three Wisemen presenting their gifts, a camel lying in straw… a donkey covered with a blanket and a black sheep. A black sheep? What a perfect reflection of my grandmothers sense of humor.
The 1950 style Christmas tree is tall and thin with branches like long, skinny finger that drip with hand blown glass and wood ornament jewelry. The deep red tree-skirt was covered in gifts; each one wrapped with military creases hugged with ribbons and bows: Hand made. All of it. Everyone was happy. My grandfather wore his Santa hat and sang carols. We gather around him while he reads the Christmas story from Luke. The entire house was picture perfect: A Norman Rockwell painting brought to life. This is the ghost of Christmas past.
December 23rd- I drive 30 minutes. A fried chicken, mini taco, sausage ball, veggie and cheese plate pot luck has replaced meals my grandmothers hands once made. The decorations are gone, the table setting too. The 1950’s faux tree has been replaced with a new fat, LED pre-lit spruce. Somehow the ornaments that once stood out are now lost in the full-figure branches. The red tree skirt is now covered with gifts that are in bags. My grandfather hides in his room to avoid the chaos; there is no singing. Whatever kid asks first gets to stutter and trip over their own tongue while they read the Christmas story. No one is listening. The only thing that’s the same is that nativity scene and it’s black sheep. This is the ghost of Christmas present.
December 23- I drive 10 minutes. Holy wreaths with red ribbons are the only decorations I see. The trees are naked- branches bare. There are no ornaments. “Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices..” I sit and read aloud the Christmas story from Luke; everyone listens. Before I go I place a Santa hat atop his side, and a black sheep atop her side of the tombstone. As I walk away I sing: “O night. O night Devine.” Everything is beautiful.
This is the ghost of Christmas future.