I'm a bit out-of-sorts this Christmas Eve. Can't put my finger on it exactly--but it has something to do with the ghosts of Christmases past. Two college age kids are wandering the house at all hours, tucking me in at night and generally sleeping all day, and causing me to feel like the child in this Christmas of 2008.
In Christmases past, I was the one who stayed up past midnight (for obvious reasons), tiptoeing around the house and trying not to awaken "the children . . . all nestled and snug in their beds." Now I'd have to stay up until at least 3 a.m. to catch them snoozing--an absolutely impossible task at my age. Much more likely that I'll simply rise at dawn--and sit by the tree reminiscing about ghosts of Christmases past--the pitter-patter of little feet that once went to bed at 9 p.m. and woke me up bright and early and begged to head down the hall to see what Santa Claus might have deposited in the night.
I remember other ghosts from the Christmases of my own childhood, spent about six degrees off the equator in the Philippines. Obviously, no one had a chimney--so we made do. We had a fake chimney made out of plywood painted to look like bricks. Christmas Eve was generally marked by a constant progression of carolers, generally children, who sang for the gift of a few coins, rather like trick-or-treaters at Halloween in the US troll for candy. We'd stand on the porch and listen to group after group--"Maligayang pasko," they sang. It literally translates to something like "Merry Christmas" and is sung to the tune "Happy Birthday." "Maligayang pasko. Maligayang pasko. Maligayang, maligayang, maligayang pasko." It's so much part of me that I can't sing "Happy birthday" without thinking of Christmases replete with banana trees and rice paddies and beautiful Christmas stars hanging from nipa huts. I still hear childrens' voices every Christmas Eve, despite the years that separate me from them. Their ghosts sing on and on and on.
No--there won't be children singing at my gate this Christmas Eve or running down my hall on Christmas Day, at least not in the flesh. But they will be with me in spirit. They will always be with me in spirit.
I'm cheered by the thought that the ghosts of Christmas present have not yet come, though they lurk just around the corner. I should enjoy them while they are here in the flesh and not yet ghosts at all. One day in the not too distant future I will yearn for them--two college kids who might finally "nestle all snug in their beds" at 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve. Someday they'll be married or well into their own careers. They'll stop by for a day or two at most--not for the two or three weeks that they spend with us now.
Suddenly I'm not out-of-sorts at all. The ghosts have gone away. Tonight these two will stop by my bed and kiss me and tuck me in before heading out for the evening. The kiss and the tuck will be very real indeed--as will their voices and, if I'm lucky, I'll hear them exclaim 'ere they drive out of sight,
"Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad, and to all a good night."