The Ghost of Holidays Past


Happy belated Easter, everyone. Easter is one of those strange holidays in my life that doesn’t really feel much like a holiday anymore. Truth be told, all holidays are different now that my grandmother is gone. She was the queen of holidays, our family matriarch who made sure every holiday was special. They were events. There were carefully planned menus, and traditions, and people. Lots of people.

I am sure my childhood memory fails me, and I suppose it’s natural to glorify things and remember just the good stuff, but I loved the holidays. My memories are like those old photographs that you see — snapshots of moments and scenes that are yellowed and faded by time and fragmented by a memory too young to appreciate or remember all the scenes outside of the camera lens.

What I wouldn’t give to be visited by the ghost of holidays past like Ebeneezer Scrooge. To hover above it all watching the events unfold before me and come into perfect focus so that I could soak in every detail. To see my grandmother smiling and orchestrating the day, and my grandfather laughing. To smell my uncle Sonny’s cooking and the mix of heavy cigarette smoke and marinara sauce. To hear the din of my great aunts arguing and the porch door slamming as my uncles play lawn darts or bocce ball at a Forth of July picnic. To watch my cousins scrambling for Easter eggs. To feel the anticipation of waiting for Santa to barge through my grandparents’ basement door with a sack full of gifts.

Nope, they don’t make holidays like those anymore, and on days like yesterday when I spend the holiday with only my husband and my daughter, I’m reminded of that all too well. I miss those huge gatherings with my tons of relatives. Some relatives were close and well-known to me. Others were distant cousins or aunts and uncles I would only ever see on holidays. But for holidays, we were together. That was what mattered.

One of the saddest days of my life was the day my grandparents’ house was sold after they were both gone. I have no doubt that selling it was one of the most difficult things my mom and uncle had to do, because with the house went a huge piece of our family traditions. I think we all mourn its loss. And I mourn the memories that my daughter will never have. I will tell her stories, but it won’t be the same. She will never meet her great grandparents or taste my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie. She will never know people who were so very special to me, like my Aunt Millie and Uncle Armand and her cousin Daniel.

For a time, I wanted so much for my daughter to have the experiences that I did growing up, that I very seriously wanted to buy my grandparents’ house and move in and resurrect the old traditions. But I know that’s not possible even if I did get the house back again. Time hides in the shadows and sometimes tiptoes and sometimes lurches forward when we’re not looking. Things change. New generations take their place, and new traditions and new memories are born.

So I have had to come to terms with the fact that while my daughter will not have those memories, she will have her own. She will be no less loved by the family and friends around her. I remember that we have new traditions and new memories, and even more are just beyond the horizon. While they may not be the same as mine, they will be hers. And with any luck, they will be filled with the same happiness and love and laughter. She will have her own stories to tell. As for me? Well, I’m still holding fast to mine.


  1. trogdor says:

    Good post! I like the surprise transition to the last two paragraphs. And isn’t it wonderful and empowering to know that you will influence so much of what those memories and traditions will be for your little girl? Fantastic!

  2. Irene says:

    When grandma and grandpa died I tried so hard to maintain some of the traditions – it just is not possible in many many ways. And I have so often said to dad, “I’m sorry our kids couldn’t know what the 50’s were about” (OF COURSE!) And, as you pointed out, memories are selective. But, I think you realize, or hope you do, that while holidays and family affairs are different, it doesn’t mean they aren’t good. Charlie will know happy, joyous occasions – she just won’t know yours. (but Uncle Carl does have a little something planned for the family reunion).

  3. Helene88 says:

    I remember Melissa, who was always 25 years old, saying to me shortly after we moved to California…. “Mommy, how will I have traditions if you CHANGE the way we do Christmas at Grandma’s, even if we aren’t there?” See, I was going to do away with all the old “stuff” because, after all, we were the only ones in California. I thought maybe I’d start new ones but really? I probably wouldn’t have had ANY had this 5 year old child not reminded me how important traditions are. So yes, Charlie will have her own memories of her holidays. But who’s to say you can’t weave some of your memories into hers? I’m all about family, you know that, and I’m so grateful that little kid sensed how important it would be to me in the future to have her holding on to some of the same stuff! And while they will never be “exactly the same” you can keep some of it alive for ever, for HER to pass on someday too!