W e are knee deep into the holiday season. Thanksgiving is behind us, we are approaching the second Sunday of Advent, and before we know it, The Prodigal in Today's Woman magazine in December 1952 by Al WernerChristmas and New Years are upon us.

It’s a hard time of year for many thanks to the Ghosts of Christmas Past. I try to remember that when I’m out running errands and I run into rude or angry people.

Loss, sadness, loneliness, anger, and being haunted by memories can turn even the cheeriest of us into Scrooge.

While scanning some old photos from JB’s childhood, I was struck with a myriad of ghosts from my own past.  As I watched the picture-perfect Christmas memories from his past move from the 60’s into the 21st Digital century, I dug into my own vault and searched for the happy memories from my childhood Christmas days.

To be honest, struggled a bit because the uglier memories were louder.

My mother had been on the forefront of my mind as the holidays approach. This if the fifth Christmas without her. She was 5 feet tall, weighed 102 pounds, and was nicknamed “Aunt Meanie” by my older cousins. They all knew not to cross my mother. Now, don’t get me completely wrong. My mother had a fun side to her. People loved her and she had some girlfriends that she remained close with for more than 30 years.

My father had what I’d call a firecracker temper – it took a lot to make him angry and if he was, he’d blow up and it was over. My mother did not. Yes, she was capable of flying off the handle at a moment’s notice, but she had this slow burn about her, like hot coals. She would take a tiny incident and fondle the story in her mind until it became A Big Deal. She would then proceed to tell the person that “Did Her Wrong” all about what a horrible person she was, talk on the phone with her girlfriends about the incident, and bring it up daily in conversation. And just when you believed that something had been forgotten, she would bring it up again and hash through the details of how horribly she had been treated.

I grew up on a diet of grudges fueled by her insomnia, depression and addiction to nicotine. Grudges didn’t go on holiday for Christmas. And, though I had many wonderful holidays, the ones that stick out in my mind are the ones in which my mother said she was “too sick” to go to the celebration at my father’s sister’s home, when in truth, she was angry at someone.

During the last days of her life, she grasped at the old hurts and focused her thoughts on those stories. It broke my heart how bitter and brittle she had allowed those grudges to make her. She could have chosen to let go of so many burdens, but she couldn’t quite figure out how.

Witnessing the anger, the pain, and the bitterness during the last weeks of her life taught me that I didn’t want to live that way – let alone reach my last days and angry at the world.

There was a reason the Ghost of Christmas Past came to visit Scrooge in the classic tale: there were lessons to be learned from the past.  I’ve been thinking about those lessons all week. The holiday season is supposed to be about love and peace and joy.

You can’t accept love when your heart is hardened by grudges. You can’t experience peace when your soul is heavy. You sure can’t receive love or joy when you get lost within grudges.

Holding on to anger and grudges only poisons your heart. The withholding of forgiveness weighs down and burdens the soul.

I think the reason this particular Ghost came to visit was to remind me that there is a lot of pressure during the holiday season to be perfect. When you add the Ghosts of Christmas Past, the extra traffic, the financial strain of buying the right gift, it’s no wonder people are touchy and sad and anger easily. It’s no wonder that small things can be quickly blown out of proportion and grudges form.

I would love to tell you that I am always Zen and am the poster child for love and peace. I’d love to tell you that I never get angry and easily forgive. But that would be a lie, because I am human, darling. And just like you, I struggle with these normal human experiences and emotions. The thing about life is that you get to choose where you put your focus and your energy.

I used to believe that if I forgave, then I wouldn’t remember the lessons I learned. The lesson I most learned by witnessing what holding onto grudges did to my mother was that forgiving doesn’t lessen the fact that you have been hurt in the past.

The decision to forgive simply means it has now power over you any longer.

This holiday season, let’s extend forgiveness. We can forgive – even if we can’t forget. Let’s let go of grudges. Let’s take a step back and not take the actions of others so personally. Most of the time, a person isn’t behaving in a particular way to piss you off, they are simply lost within their own pain.

And when it comes to forgiveness, there is another side of this card: receiving forgiveness and extending compassion and grace to yourself and allow forgiveness within your heart for yourself. It is part of the human condition that we make mistakes in life. Do not add burdens upon your heart by holding a grudge against yourself.

When the Ghosts of Christmas Past come to visit, let’s ask them about the loving memories. Let’s ask them to remind us of when we felt safe and adored and treasured. Let’s seek within our pasts the silver threads of peace and choose to let go of those threads to draw us into grudges.

Let us remember that grudges lead to bitterness while love leads us to forgiveness, peace and joy.

Are you ready to rewrite your stories? Check out Become Besotted and let me help you fall in love with yourself – and your life.

Debra is a life coach, writer, and tarnished southern belle. She resides in Dayton, OH.
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