I certainly hope everyone enjoys the very best among family and friends this holiday season.

It would be a bit naive for me to think everyone is having a “Merry Christmas” though. And my heart goes out to all those less fortunate around the world.

It’s not my best Christmas either, but everything will be OK.

There’s much more to the Christmas tradition than the holiday hullabaloo. In between Santa, the gifts and the retelling of the story about a child-Savior, there’s also at he joy cultured among family and friends.

Like many people, my Christmas will be a quiet one. It used to be discouraging to think about being alone at this time of the year, but I’m not the only one.

Perhaps that’s why I’m not lamenting the moment either, because it’s late and I’ve had plenty of visits from the ghosts of Christmas past and they’re hardly scary – in fact, they’ve warmed my soul this dreary night.

This past spring, my family lost the touchstone of our holiday tradition when Frances Bass passed on at age 89. Christmas was no doubt her favorite time of the year too and when I was a kid (for that matter, up until this last year) I couldn’t wait to get to Granny’s house for Christmas.

We lived some 300 miles away from her house when we were kids and the memory of the drive from Nashville to Jefferson City still speaks to me across forty years because there was no place, like her home for the holidays.

She always practiced the fine art of overkill when it came to Christmas decorations – her house looked like a Cracker Barrel lobby. She loved to wear those decorative holiday sweaters, had a secret punch and was eager to sing Christmas Carols at any moment while smiling upon her grandchildren.

Her humble house was hard to walk through as family guests arrived in crowds to share food, music, stories and plenty of festive hugs and kisses while we ate in shifts, adults first and children second.

There was Uncle Sherman who played Santa Claus in the Christmas Parade. He worked for the police department, smoked a pipe and always had shiny silver dollars in his pockets for everyone big and small as his wife, Aunt Velma smiled at his kid-like antics.

Aunt Polly reminded me of Minnie Pearl when she yelled ‘Howwwdy’ at the door and all the cousins were aloof as we scampered among the towering adults.

Papaw Frank would play his guitar in the den dressed in a cranberry red shirt Francis made him wear and we would sing Christmas Carols together in our annual holiday sessions.

My grandparents on my dad’s side, Harold and Ruth might have felt out of place, but they always seemed to enjoy the company as they dressed up and made the drive from Strawberry Plains.

When it was time to open presents, it was hard to fit everyone in the living room as gifts poured out from under the Christmas tree like a waterfall with shiny wrappings and untold mysteries.  Even though we were hardly rich – anything was possible.

All of those relatives are only memories now. Their voices will always linger though and they helped me to look back on a rich collection of holiday moments – even helping me forward with a few others.

As I made my way through high school and college, there were plenty of holiday memories with lovers and friends that seemed to augment the memories of my youth.

Faraway places, special candlelight moments and the hope of new families and friends seemed to make Christmas better year after year. A lot of those people are out of the picture too – moving on as people often do.

No sir. Christmas isn’t the same this year. It’s raining outside and most of my family are out of town. The lights at Granny’s house aren’t even blinking tonight.

It’s not so bad though. My friends are in cue for the next few days. We’ll gather together and share the time to relax, eat and drink fine wine together and I’ll continue to accrue a bounty of blessings – more than I deserve.

For the moment though, I’m lost in the past and thankful for the memories who have visited with me this Christmas Eve and before you think about it – they weren’t looking for Ebenezer Scrooge but they did come with tidings of good cheer.

Sometimes, when you’re alone, the exuberance of the holidays can become overwhelming. It’s easy to drift off to the things you don’t have too and I’m very aware of how tough and sad the holidays can be sometimes. My mom struggles with the loss of her mother this year and there are plenty of families around me adjusting to new terms.

But things weren’t always this way. And therein is the message.

Be thankful for your family and friends this year.  Take a moment to close your eyes, listen to the voices of those around you and cherish all you celebrate.

We all come to know one truth – things change and sometimes it takes stepping out of the season to realize what you’ve shared with those from the past.

I’m certainly not afraid of ghosts – never had one trouble me and on this silent night – I’m so very thankful to the ghost of Christmas past. It was a night to relive some of the best holiday memories and make some adjustments for the New Year (my favorite holiday), as we set the pace and we all work toward a better world for everyone around us.

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