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Nostalgia and Christmas Trinkets.

I know I’m not the only person who finds the weeks and days leading up to Christmas difficult. It amazes me that some people are in their absolute element organising, planning and carefully wrapping gifts weeks ahead of the big day.

I’d love to be that person but this year, once again, I’m chastising myself for being so rubbish at doing Christmas.

With just one week to go I’ve barely bought any presents, written not one Christmas card and as usual left everything to the absolute last minute.

I am a procrastinator and find planning anything very difficult. I just can’t grasp how to put things into a helpful, organised sequence of events. I live in the moment which sounds like a happy go lucky way to be, but it really isn’t and I’m constantly apologising for disappointing people.

But I do manage to decorate a tree; I love Christmas trees. I love their hopeful, optimistic promise of a happy new year and whenever I decorate a Christmas tree I’m transported back in time to my childhood.

Nostalgia strikes hard with its bitter sweet arrow to the heart.

Christmas triggers the pain of nostalgia like no other season for me. Anyone who grew up in a culture celebrating Christmas will have early memories of this event and the associated family traditions and trinkets.

Many of us will have inherited Christmas decorations and kitsch souvenirs from our parents; objects that somehow hold stories about our past. These often banal ornaments hold the narrative and the context of our own personal history and authentic past lives.

Each metonymic object is part of our own personal cabinet of curiosities – it’s an aide memoir that reminds us who we are and where we’ve been.

The objects we inherit from our past remain relatively unchanged over time – they may be a little frayed, faded, chipped or bashed about – but they’re inherently, atomically, the same thing that they’ve always been.

Unlike us. We’re not the same thing at all.

Our skin regenerates every 27 days, our bones regenerate every 10 years and our hair has a life span of 3-6 years depending on our gender.

This means that by the time we celebrate our 50th birthday we’ll have lived in over 600 different skins, grown 5 skeletons and brushed about 10 different heads of hair – all our own.

For a long time it was believed that the brain was one area of the body that couldn’t regenerate, that damaged brain cells simply die never to be replaced. But the good news is that simply isn’t the case- neurogenesis, the formation of new brain cells, is also ongoing throughout our lives. By the time you’re 50 you’ll have replaced all the neurons you were born with in your hippocampus – that’s the part of your brain involved with learning and memory.

So, unlike the baubles and other souvenirs that remain unchanged on our tree for years we’re more like a familiar Christmas carol sung by a thousand different choirs; always the same but somehow different.

I grew up with a mother who was born on Christmas day and she had the voice of an angel. She went to church to sing not pray, and Christmas carols were her favourite – she sung them all year round. So, as a child every Christmas morning was spent in church listening to the melancholic songs that made me feel sad and excited at the same time. I’d will myself to believe in Jesus, lip synching to the carols far too embarrassed by the sound of my own voice to actually join in. But I treasured this special time together; then we’d walk home to peel the potatoes.

Forward planning and the inability to understand time beyond now has always been problematic for me but it’s especially hard at this time of year. Expectations (mostly mine) are high and each passing year the bar seems to get raised another inch by subliminal forces. (mostly social media)

Christmas takes a lot of planning and action but it’s hard to take action when the thought of it makes your stomach churn and for me the anxiety begins on November 28th.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, before my mothers 50th  birthday, she took her own life. Just like that she was gone and Christmas would never be the same.

The word, and presumably the concept, of nostalgia has its origins in Greek language;  NOSTOS: a return, ALGOS: painful and it describes beautifully that painful sense of longing for the past.

The phenomena of nostalgia has been appropriated and exploited by 21st century advertisers keen to give our sensitive emotional interiors a sharp poke. We no longer have to wait years for an object to write it’s own narrative, we can simply buy into a marketing campaign and project someone else’s, more attractive, idea of Christmas onto it.

When the first two lines of ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ can reduce you to a sobbing wreck it’s difficult to sit through school nativity plays and advent spirals with any form of composure. But thanks to considerate marketing executives we no longer need to actually feel the pain of loss, we can just buy something that looks nostalgic and enjoy the aesthetic thus bypassing any need to mine our emotions or feel anything.

Sadly none of the Christmas decorations from my childhood have survived so now it’s simply the ritual of decorating a tree that’s symbolic. My memories are crystallised in the new baubles, angels and stars that dangle innocuously between the past and present symbolising both the pain of loss and my steely optimism for the future.

‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ will be even more painful this year for different reasons but forever the irritating optimist I wish you all the very best this holiday season and into the new year!

with love

Sue x










This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. Having read your article my heart goes out to you Sue. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, Christmas should be whatever you wish it to be, I hope you find some peace and happiness this year. Sending love.
    Linda. X

    1. Thank you Linda I’ll definitely make time to switch off this Christmas – I hope you have a lovely Christmas too and all the very best for 2024. With love Sue xx

  2. How beautifully written & heartfelt. Courageous to voice what lots of us feel, but don’t have the words to. As a fellow procrastinator, hats off to you for all you do. It’s incredible. With a fellow dread of Christmas, my heart goes out to you. Please continue to be the “irritating optimist” dear Sue … it’s perfect & real.
    Sending gentle hugs & light for 2024 & beyond! Lynn x

    1. Thank you Lynnette – a kindred spirit! ❤️ I’m so looking forward to working with you again on the new project – see you on the other side! xx

  3. Dear Sue,

    Thank you for sharing such an intimate aspect of your life, no wonder Christmas is so nostalgic for you.
    I have done a number of your courses and already admire you as a professional and as an artist – now I know you a bit better as a person too.
    So, put your feet up with a sherry and a mince pie, you deserve it.

    1. Thank you! That’s very kind…and yes I’m definitely going to take some time out over Christmas and recharge my batteries ready for 2024! Merry Christmas Kate, enjoy! xx

  4. Beautifully written Sue. So painfully sad. We lost our 28 year old son this year. The anguish that is involved in loving and losing someone suffering with mental health issues is immeasurable and remains forever a tragic mystery . There is forever a hole in one’s heart. Sending you virtual hugs ❤️‍❤️

  5. Loved reading this.
    It’s such a sad time but one full of hope for the future a time to reflect on the loved ones we have lost.
    I lost both of my parents but I have a decoration that they gave me as a gift it goes up every year and brings me such happy memories.
    Wishing you a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year
    Tracy xx

    1. Thank you Tracy, I hope you also have a lovely Christmas and I can’t wait to catch up with you next year! xx

  6. I am a new follower and had to reach out and say how much your post hit home. It is so easy to try and bypass our own feelings by buying “all things” to try and fill up that hole inside. Our family has now moved away from presents and is focusing on just being together for Christmas and the closeness that has brought to this season is such a special unexpected treat. Hugs and peaceful happy times during this time for love.

    1. Thank you Joan, I never really know who’s reading my blog posts but it’s lovely to be reminded that they do make sense to other people too! I hope you have a lovely Christmas with your family and enjoy every minute xx

  7. Sue, thanks so much for sharing your pains and joys. Although I am a planner, every single year I am surprised that Christmas has arrived, as if the timing changes from year to year. I think the expectations of us for joyousness are unrealistic, given the world we live in. It becomes most important to recognize the beauty of life whenever a moment presents itself. As someone who lives primarily in my own head, I envy people who can live in the moment. I’m working on it!
    I’m not going to be able to join the new class this time around as I have just moved to another state (Utah to Oregon) and have much more organizing to do. Right now, I don’t know where everything is, and if I even brought “it” with me. I am hopeful I will be ready, willing and able by the October offering. Hang in there Sue! You are a unique and wonderful individual, contributing to the joy many of us experience in the creation of beauty. Here’s to an enjoyable, creative new year. Julie

    1. Dear Julie, thank you so much for your kind and wise words. “recognise the beauty of life whenever a moment presents itself.” I’ll remember to do that…. Thank you. xxx

  8. Dearest Sue,

    Thank you for sharing your powerful and painful memories about Xmas. It was heartbreaking to read your beautifully written story. I feel much the same as you about Xmas and it’s approaching season. My dread starts the day after Thanksgiving when I make myself unpack a closet in my home that I’ve been stuffing with presents to gift my loved ones. I buy things throughout the year for giving and have completely forgotten what I’ve bought, so I must make myself review. Then I make myself make a list of who gets what and gifts pile up all over the floor. Next I make myself set up a gift wrapping station in my studio which makes it even more cluttered then it already is. I’m surrounded by way too much chaos. The wrapping and the finishing up of handmade gifts lasts right up until the last minute on Xmas Eve. The stress and anxiety are unbelievable, but no one around me seems to feel the same way I do so I try not to complain.

    And then there is the heartache of the time as I think about all the loved ones I’ve lost that played such an important part of my Xmas experience. I, like you, lost a parent who killed themselves, my father, but I never knew him as I was only 6 months old when he took his life. I grew up believing he died in a car accident until my mother told me the truth at age 24 and I was devasted. I was her only child and she was very protective of me. We were very close and she was an incredible mother and loved me deeply. It’s my mother I miss the most, not just at Xmas time but everyday. And like your mom, she loved to sing at church but unlike yours she did not have the voice of an angel. LOL And I have to say it was pretty embarrassing as she thought she was singing on tune, not! I tried to tell her once but that did not go well for me. Ha ha I do have one favorite part during the season. It’s putting up a tree for my mother with many of her dear ornaments, some she made and some she bought. Each year I buy a new one that reminds me of her. But sadly this year I didn’t even put up that tree as I’m feeling overwhelmed with trying to finish up handmade gifts and spending way too much time on the computer. It seems to have taken over my life. So that’s making me feel really guilty too.

    So I better get off this thing and get to work. But I just wanted to let you know you are not alone in your feelings about this time of year.

    Loving your class, I’m finishing up my very last large flower. Then it’s on to the layout after the holidays.

    Debra Sposa

    1. Dear Debra, thank you for taking the time to read and write your own thoughts on this blog post. It is comforting to know that we’re not alone in our anxiety as Christmas approaches. I think it’s important to take the time to look back and remember those we’ve lost – but then look up and see the people we can still treasure in our lives. I’m sending you my warmest wishes- oh, and good luck finishing your Homage blanket- I’d love to see it! xxx

  9. Thank you Sue for a beautiful Christmasletter. Ism deeply touched by it .
    Wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
    So greatful to have found the Mercerie community ❤️

  10. Oh Sue, I found your post so moving, along with other’s responses. Christmas is such a mix of emotions for so many. Wishing you and everyone as much peace and joy as possible ❤️

    1. Thank you Sarah, I hope you have a fabulous Christmas – and I’m excited to be working with you again on the the new project in January! Best wishes, Sue xxx

  11. Sue, I wasn’t able to find the words to respond to your heart words, so I’ve borrowed words from poet John Roedel, below. (

    to grieve amid the bells
    of December is one of life’s
    most bittersweet things
    it’s hard to hide our fake smiles
    and heartbreak under the glow of
    Christmas light strings
    were asked out to parties but we
    opt to stay home with our ghost of
    Christmastime past
    who offers to put a bright red bow
    on each of our blue tears once they
    begin to pour fast
    everyone else seems so jolly
    in their holiday suits as they surf
    the great Yuletide waves
    but we will be too busy to join them
    as we search for the Wonder Star
    from inside of our caves
    it’s fine not to be festive
    this year when our hearts are
    broken in two
    because grief isn’t something
    we just “get over”; it’s a passage
    we must go through
    as the bells of December
    ring all around us, let’s pretend
    it’s not lumps of coal
    maybe its just our departed
    beloveds who learned to play
    music with their soul
    every bell ring can be a
    a Christmas letter that our
    missing beloved will write
    and each letter ends the same way:
    “someday our broken
    halves will someday reunite”
    so, let the bells ring
    and clang and play
    and be a holiday psalm
    sung by our loved ones
    who had to slip away
    ~ but who aren’t actually gone
    if I allow myself
    I can hear your voice
    talking to me in the bells
    ring ~” I’m here dancing in between the snowflakes”
    ring ~ “I’m drawing your name in the frost”
    ring ~ “Winking at you from a Christmas moon”
    ring ~ “I’m the clamor in your silent night”
    ring ~” squeezing your hand with garland”
    ring ~ “my love, we will be together soon”
    “someday our broken
    halves will someday reunite”
    ~ john roedel

    1. Dear Abigail, thank you so much for this, and for introducing me to this poet. ❤️ I’ve saved this to read again, slowly and quietly, over my Christmas break. Wishing you and your family all the very best. Sue xxx

  12. I always so enjoy reading your newsletters Sue, they are so heartfelt. I vaguely remember my mom; she left my dad when I was 3 and I never saw her again. Although I really appreciate my dad raising me, as I aged, I knew he was not always the most caring, comforting, or mentally supportive parent – telling a 3-year-old your mom left you because she didn’t love you creates lifelong scars. Yet, had he chosen to abandon me as my mom did, I cannot fathom what life might have been like, so I am grateful for him taking care of my basic needs of housing, food, clothing, and schooling until I could provide those things for myself.
    No matter how it occurs the loss of a parent, child, or loved one whether blood relative or not leaves a big hole in our hearts. I offer my deepest sympathy for your loss.

    I enjoyed reading the regenerative process we go through, as a scientist I find human body, behaviors, resiliency, etc. so fascinating. I was born with hyperthymesia (both a blessing and a curse), I often feel like you might also have that same ability in the way that you are able to describe events in such detail it makes the reader feel so engaged they can visualize what you describe and also feel the same emotions. Of course, this ability is awesome when recalling happy times, not so much for the unhappy times.

    In closing, I would like to say the holidays used to stress me out too then one day driving to pick something up last minute I wondered why I was making them so stressful. From then on, I do the holidays like I want (simple) and then I just enjoy the decor and lights of all the other over achievers (thank you over achievers I really appreciate the extra beauty you add to the holidays) ;-D.

    I hope you and all your students have a relaxing and merry holiday; I will see you for tellelation nation in January (so looking forward to it).

    1. Hi! Thank you for your lovely response to this post ❤️ Everyone of us has our own personal narrative that serves to shape us- thank you for sharing yours with us here. I agree, one less than perfect parent is always better than none…..

      I definitely don’t have hyperthymesia (I had to google that!) my memories are brightly detailed and overlaid with lots of emotion – but I don’t actually have that many- although I think as we get older things we thought we’d forgotten tend to resurface.

      I love the idea of Christmas overachievers! I know some of those, and yes we have much to thank them for.

      I’m excited to be working with you again in the New Year- so enjoy your Christmas, recharge your batteries and I’ll see you on the other side. Sue xxx

  13. Dear Sue, dear all,
    I read with great attention, heart and empathy your wonderful messages, full of sincerity and without filter. I feel honored to read you as one receives the most intimate confidences of a dear friend. Sue brings together people of your quality and this place of exchange becomes a link of listening and kindness. Sue, for the quality of your writing, your intelligence of the heart and your immense creative talent, I say THANK YOU! I will be your student for the 4th time on January 16th, I am so lucky. Despite the throes of life, I want to believe that the Christmas lights will come to lodge in the depths of our hearts, a pinch of magic and a few joyful and delicious moments. That wouldn’t be bad… I wish you the best and I look forward to reading you again.

    1. Corinne, thank you. For spending a little time here, reading, contributing and supporting us. I’m excited to work with you on my next project – spend this time recharging your batteries – I’m going to be working you hard next year!! With love, sue x

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