If you are one of those who get a lump in the throat at this time of year, you will understand how it is. You are probably reluctant to attend parties and celebrations and lock arms at midnight on New Year’s Eve and sing Auld Lang Syne because while other voices belt out those sentimental words, you cannot get through the song without choking up ... and you would rather do that in private.
A long time ago, all this seemed easier because we had less to look back at with nostalgia — or so it appears, with hindsight.
The second half of December was spent in a flurry of sweet-making, spring-cleaning and decorating the house, making long lists of whom to call for our festive Christmas lunch and whom to visit each day until the gathering of several generations of family and friends around the bonfire on 31st night. It was sometime in my teens that the undiluted joyousness of those days began to develop cracks and the first pangs of nostalgia crept in. A couple of dear friends had left for greener pastures; we had moved away from other friends; the family was often “incomplete” with someone missing — thanks to college projects or exigencies of work.
Our little bubble was no longer intact — but there was still so much to plan (and disagree over), so much to do (and argue about), and so much hope for the future that we got through with only a slight catch in our voice and perhaps a single tear.
Through the years, through ups and downs, that remained more or less constant: So much to plan. So much to do. So much to hope for.
Of course, plans grew, actions differed, discord prevailed and was overcome, dreams and aspirations changed. But year-end was the time to celebrate — and we were determined to celebrate.
So we would bring down the decorations from the loft, string them up, dust off baubles and fluff up cotton wool-covered snowmen and Santa Clauses and get to work.
Decades later, habit makes us continue to do that. But while our hands are busy, our minds are far away, travelling down memory lane to re-live other occasions.
And each decorative item we touch seems to have a life of its own: The plaques we helped our mother make for the Grade Two students she was teaching almost half a century ago; eight felt paper covered stockings with each one’s names stuck on them a quarter century ago when our little family had not only a fourth member — our quadruped — but there were also fond grandparents visiting; the little crib cut out of a thin plastic sheet so meticulously and lovingly a decade ago by a craft-loving sister-in-law who left us too suddenly and too early; and all those Christmas-tree baubles collected over the years — some handmade, some store-bought from remote corners of our country and some presented to us by visitors from different parts of the world.
They are carefully handled and painstakingly wrapped up and boxed and put away each year and so they remain intact — and carry their stories with them for us to recall when we hold them up to the light.
True, a little thrill runs through us when we remember, but as we look around at our silent little house that now houses just two of us and friends and family who will perhaps stop by for a few hours, those memories of noisy, chaotic, fun-filled and disagreement-ridden days overwhelm us and a deep wave of nostalgia threatens to lay us low.
But only for a moment.
Because this is also the time when hope runs high.
And what is ahead is not just another day.
It is another year.
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.