Ghosts of Christmas Past

Christmas is once more rapidly closing in on us.  It seems like every year it’s also the time when I/we reflect on some of the great Christmas’ we’ve enjoyed as well as exploring some of the ‘ghosts of Christmas’ past’.  Maybe ghosts isn’t the proper word and faux pas is a better term.  Whatever.

I think all of us have had those moments when we’d give anything to be able to roll the clock back ten minutes and get a do over.  Maybe we didn’t quite think things through thoroughly or even though we had the best intentions, it didn’t come across that way.  Let me share a few personal ghosts of Christmas past in the hopes it’ll save you some grief.

The first (in a series) of lifetime screw ups came when I was around 7 or 8.  My greatest wish that Christmas was for a bow and arrow.  It was truly a “Christmas Story” moment.  While it wasn’t an “… official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle…” my excitement, like Ralphie’s, was off the charts.  After appropriate safety instructions I was sent outside in the snow to try it out.

As I looked around for a target my focus fell on the side of our old farm house.  Perfect.  What I didn’t consider was that rubber tipped arrow could have enough force to actually break a kitchen window….but it did.  I honestly don’t think I was aiming for it but I nailed it.  This was at a time when money was tight and I have no doubt my parents were less then thrilled at having to replace a window pane, particularly in the dead of winter.  There was a brief suspension of access but life went on.

Years later, the next real faux pas really fell on my dad with a bit of collusion on my part.  Dad had a thing about getting the biggest tree you could get and the bottom of the tree had to be perfectly shaped.  No gaps in the branches, perfectly shaped and a nice full look.

We had a local farmer that grew Christmas trees and it was a cut your own operation.  Dad and I went out and after considerable inspection found the perfect tree.  We knew it was a bit big but were pretty sure we could get it in the house.  We should have known when we had trouble getting it in the back of his pickup we might have some problems.

When we got home, we were a little surprised that a ten foot pine was a tight fit against an eight foot ceiling.   Live and learn.  Mom wasn’t home so it was up to us to figure out how to handle the situation.  It took about two minutes to realize we couldn’t cut off the base of the tree because it was without a doubt absolute perfection.  The only solution was to cut off the top two feet of the tree and it would fit perfectly.

We were pretty proud of our ingenuity and met mom at the door that evening expecting she’d share our enthusiasm.  She agreed the base of the tree was perfect but also pointed out that by cutting off the top of the tree it looked like the tree was growing through the ceiling.   It was pretty obvious she wasn’t really happy with the situation. There was some discussion about going back for another tree that actually fit the room but we convinced her there just wasn’t going to be another tree that perfect.  It was definitely “the” tree that was remembered and talked about for years.

The Ghosts of Christmas past that really haunt me annually have to do with my gift shopping for my wife.  We’ve reached a point in our lives where we don’t do any shopping for each other at Christmas and with good reason.  During the year, if we see or express a desire for something we tend to buy it telling each other Merry Christmas.  Works fine after years of trial and a lot of error.  When we were still buying gifts for each other at Christmas the first real let down for me was the year of the Christmas Sweater.

I’ve never  claimed to be any sort of fashionista and the Christmas Sweater confirmed that.  A number of years ago I was perusing the local sporting goods store looking for the ultimate gift and came across some ski sweaters.  This was in the 80’s and at that time the bulky knitted sweaters were popular with some sort of skiing or wildlife motif.  I found a beauty with a couple of deer knitted into the middle of the sweater looking like they were prancing through the snow.  GORGEOUS!!!!  She’ll love it!

A week later we were Christmas shopping together and I steered her into the same store and we ‘happened’ to walk past the display of sweaters.  I very coolly said, ‘…man, aren’t those great looking sweaters?‘  My wife, never being one to conceal her true feelings turned to me and said with equal coolness… ” Seriously????  I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing one of those!”  Lesson learned!

For a number of years after the sweater I played it safe by shopping at the jewelry store.  There came a point where the jewelry started getting too routine and I decided to break tradition and get something ‘useful’.  For a few years I did pretty good with some cool kitchen appliances that were winners.  A ‘Ninja’ for making Margarita’s.  The “Tater Tornado” (seriously) for making homemade potato chips and a couple of other gadgets.  Most were met with mild enthusiasm and acceptance.  But the real mistake and last gift occurred a few years ago with the ‘Cookie Shooter Christmas’.

I was shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond and struck gold.  After wandering around for a while I was drawn to a big display of electric cookie makers that I called the Cookie Shooter.  You put the dough in it and with the squeeze of a trigger it shot out a perfectly shaped cookie onto the cookie sheet in the shape of a star or a snowflake or something equally cool.  What really sold me on the machine was a woman (shopper) walking by who stopped to ask me if I was thinking of getting one for my wife.  When I told her possibly, she went on to extol all the fabulous features of the appliance and how much my wife would absolutely love it.  Hero status in the gift buying realm was virtually assured.

Now, about a week before Christmas that year I was so pumped about this gift I couldn’t contain myself.  I finally broke down and told her she could open it early as it was something she might want to use before Christmas.  By this time, she’s almost as excited as I am.

She tore the paper off anxious to see this incredible gift.  When she got the paper off, there was a minute of absolute silence as she read the box and looked at the picture of the Cookie Shooter.  The only ‘incredible’ thing was the look she gave me as she asked me… ‘what in the hell am I supposed to do with this????’.  It immediately brought back memories of the deep period of depression and recovery I went through following the Sweater debacle.  It was almost what I’d call a PTSD moment.

When the initial shock started to numb, it was explained to me that she never made this kind of cookie.  She didn’t like them, they were a pain to make and the chances she’d ever use it ranked up there with winning the Lottery.  Got it.  To this day I question if that female shopper that advised me was actually a ‘plant’ to sell stuff that just wasn’t moving that well.

Now these aren’t the only ghosts of Christmas’ past that visit me but they’re the most memorable.  I’ve recovered and (for the most part) moved on.  I still get sweaty palms when I think about gift buying and I’ve accepted the concept that cash is king.  Hard to screw it up.

I have no doubt all of you have your own ghosts you recall this time of year.  I hope like my wife and I you can look back at them as memorable moments that are a lot funnier today then they were at the moment.  It’s not that we don’t mean well, but sometimes in spite of your best effort….

This year, make your own memories and I wish you all a sincere and very Merry Christmas!!


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