Thanksgiving was over, to begin with.
For some reason, my sports watch alarm went off at midnight, waking me from a strange dream, in which I was unable to run from a monster, molded from leftover stuffing and mashed potatoes with gravy dripping from its outstretched arms, due to the weight of my own enormous thighs.
I started to drift off again, when a form suddenly appeared at the foot of my bed. She wore a floor-length polyester red and green plaid skirt, a white ruffled blouse with huge tab collar, a crocheted vest, and a Christmas tree pin.
“Hi, like, I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past, and I’m here to take you on, like, a pretty decent trip back to the 1970s,” the apparition said while twirling a segment of her long hair. No sooner did I grasp the ghost’s braided macramé belt than we were whisked on metal roller skates to the home of my youth.
It was about two weeks before Christmas 1974, and my mother was preparing her shopping list while my brother and I decorated the Christmas tree with silver tinsel, careful not to rest the tiny plastic strips on the bubble lights, which might burn the house down if we were not careful.
My mother’s list included the names of our little family, along with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. She had saved enough in her Christmas account to buy fruitcake, tea towels, Avon perfume, Barbis, Tonka trucks, and decorative tins of ribbon candies.
Although my brother and I loved to go downtown to see shops decorated with lights and mechanical elves, we begged to stay home so we would not miss the new Rankin Bass special, “The Year Without a Santa Clause,” which our console television might pick up if the antennae were turned just right.
My mother agreed to put off shopping one more day. Instead, she wrote out her twelve Christmas cards and served us cocoa in Santa mugs with cookies, which we were disappointed to find contained prunes, raisins, molasses, mincemeat, anise, or some other objectionable ingredient. Nevertheless, we lay contentedly on the green shag rug listening to a Burl Ives record, gazing up at our tree and its Styrofoam egg carton star.
I reached out, trying in vain to re-experience my youth, but was wrenched from my trance when a bubble light scorched my arm. “Ouch!” I exclaimed, and was abruptly heaped upon my own bed, surrounded by nothing but the dark night and a faint tapping sound.
There, seated on my bed, I saw the second apparition, her thumbs poking away at an iPhone. She glanced at me and said, “Hey, how’s it going. I’m the Ghost of Christmas Present, but hold on a sec, I have to answer this.”
Finally, the specter finished texting and proclaimed, “Alrighty, touch my yoga pants and let’s do this thing, because I’ve got carpool duty in a couple hours.” I grabbed her spandex waistband and was transported to scenes of unimaginable Christmas chaos.
First, we saw the three-page Christmas list I made right after Halloween, which included gifts for the school lunch ladies, Anna’s ukulele instructor, the seven neighbors we like and the three we don’t but can’t leave off the list for fear of inciting neighborhood drama.
Next, we joined a stampede of Black Friday shoppers, all poised to pepper spray each other over the last X Box 360 at Walmart. The Spirit took me to Starbucks, where we paid $5 for a Mocha Peppermint Chai Tea and $300 for gift cards for the kids’ teachers. Then we dashed home to type, print and mail out 150 copies of the annual family Christmas letter, replete with exaggerated superlatives about the kids and the daily activities of our dog.
Then, we ate, and ate, and ate. Everything from gallons of hot dip to platters of cookies packed with peanut butter chips, candy chunks, marshmallows and M&Ms. We washed it all down with cartons of egg nog which, according to the sell-by date, would still be edible come Valentine’s Day.
Finally, the Ghost dropped me in front of our HDTV virtual fireplace glowing beside our artificial tree with its economical LED lights. Exhausted, I pleaded, “Have mercy! Haunt me no more!”
Just then, a figure approached from the shadows. “Are you the Ghost of Christmases yet to come?!” I yelped in fear. The apparition only nodded and handed me a small high tech device. With a swipe, I activated a life-sized holographic Christmas tree. A second click started microwaving a frozen Christmas Tofurkey dinner with all the vegan fixins. In mere nanoseconds, I sent personalized Christmas video messages to friends of friends of friends on Facebook.
But then, the Spirit pointed a long finger at the futuristic device. On the screen appeared countless images of people sitting alone in the dark clicking buttons on Christmas. “Oh, no Spirit!” I cried, “I will heed these lessons and honor Christmas in my heart!”
I awoke in my own bed, and rushed excitedly down the stairs, shouting to my daughter, “Turn off that virtual fireplace before you dot another i, Lillian Molinari!” To my husband I demanded, “Off with you to the Winn Dixie for the fattest turkey in the freezer case!” I ripped up my three-page shopping list, put on my Sinatra holiday CD, and resolved to keep Christmas well.
The Spirits taught me that Christmastime needs balance. I shouldn’t go overboard and complicate the holiday with obligation, commercialism, and stress. I should spend less time at the stores or in front of the computer, and more time with family and friends. I must never allow the gifts, food, and decorations to overshadow the real reason for the season.
And lest I forget, God Bless Us, Every One!