Michelle Cleary-Haire offers a new take on the story A Christmas Carol

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These past weeks have been busy with Christmas parties, family dinners, concerts, decorating and work. I am sure most of you feel the same way. However, I am not sure you were all visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

Michelle Cleary-Haire

By Michelle Cleary-Haire

These past weeks have been busy with Christmas parties, family dinners, concerts, decorating and work. I am sure most of you feel the same way. However, I am not sure you were all visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

One night I was down in my cold basement surrounded by boxes yet unpacked from the move to this house in March, chairs and tables still waiting for a warm kitchen, tools yet to be organized, (husband has also been busy), lamps of all sizes, and bins holding everything from childhood memories to old dishes and cards from every occasion. There I was, stood in the midst of gifts wondering how I was going to get it all done and thinking of all I still had left to get, when the Spirit of Christmas Past appeared.

A vision of my oldest daughter materialized before me dressed as a mermaid, holding a Barbie and beckoning me to come with her. Suddenly, it was 1993 and my husband and I were sitting by the Christmas tree handing her present after present. After she opened each gift I quickly passed her another eager to see the expression of wonder on her beautiful little face. Each unwrapping brought forward squeals of joy but after about the 20th present, I witnessed something I thought I would never in my lifetime see — she started to cry, said she was tired of opening gifts and did not want to open any more.

Then she looked at me with sad eyes and asked if she could open one of her Barbie’s so we could play. I looked at my husband, who just nodded. If he had said, "I told you so," I may have bawled then and there.

Instead I let her pick a Barbie and we went in to the kitchen, opened it and let our imaginations take us to the land of make-believe. We played for hours!

Before the Spirit of Christmas Past took me by the hand, she whispered in my ear, “I don’t need a lot of presents to be happy mommy!” As suddenly as she had appeared, I was drawn back to the wrapping table and in to the present moment, feeling both guilt-ridden and ashamed. My daughter smiled and said, “You will be visited by the Spirit of Christmas Present, don’t be afraid momma and listen to what she says. Remember I love you to the moon and back!”

Then, after a gentle hug and kiss to my cheek, she was gone.

Help with the cookies

All of a sudden, I heard “Michelle Bernadette Cleary!” The Spirit of Christmas Present was here. I knew the sound of her voice immediately — it was my mother who had passed away six Christmases ago.

She was standing in front of me wearing a green bathrobe and holding a cup of tea. She said, “Come with me.” Next thing I know, I was standing in front of a Christmas tree decorated with tinsel and garland and a few glass balls. My walking doll was standing next to my easy bake oven and new coat and boots. I was eight years old. Next to me were my two brothers, Donny and Tommy, playing with their G.I. Joes and lost in their own fun. I could smell the turkey cooking in the kitchen and standing next to me was my beautiful mother in her Christmas dress and white apron, asking me to come help her make cookies.

I was happy and felt an immense sense of peace. She always had a way of making me feel important.

“Don’t you remember how much fun it was to bake with me," she asked? "Get out of your basement, stop worrying about what you have to buy and instead, go upstairs with the girls and get out some dough."

She was right and I knew it! I begged her to stay with me but she told me she had to go, she said she loved me, was watching over us and that life was short and better spent with family and friends than in a mall shopping for gifts or a cold basement wrapping presents. She laid a loving kiss on my forehead and said, ‘I’ll see you in heaven.”

Thanks for loving me

In the wink of an eye I was again standing by the wrapping table, crying like a baby, yearning for my mother. Then, right in front of me, sitting atop the mound of presents I saw a boy all dressed in blue, about 10 years old.

He looked like an angel — the Spirit of Christmas Future had arrived!

“Nanny,” he smiled, "thank you for loving me!”

Then, he jumped down from the table, took me by the hand and whisked me into the future. I was sitting by the fireplace surrounded by my children and their children along with other family members listening to my grandchild playing songs on the piano. There were some gifts under the tree, but not mounds of them. Instead, there were smiling faces all around and love filled the room. I was not stressed or tired and my soul felt rested. I was surrounded by love.

"Can you read me a Christmas story?" said Stephen, my oldest grandchild.

“Yes, I sure can, I have all night!”

The Spirit of Christmas Future fell asleep on my lap and just as I was about to nod off with him, I was jolted back to the cold basement surrounded by things that really had little meaning. The gifts wrapped and those yet to be wrapped radiated no emotion at all, certainly not the true meaning of Christmas.

Although I had bought each gift thinking of the person it was intended for and feeling love for them while doing it, I had still spent a lot of money and energy doing so. Had I neglected my loved ones in the rush to get the best present? Did they really need all these gifts to be happy?

I knew deep in my heart, thanks to the visit from the three spirits, that the best gift would be having my husband home for Christmas and spending time with my children, family and friends. Baking cookies with the girls and decorating the house for Christmas would give me real joy and memories to last forever. Celebrating the true spirit of Christmas also meant being thankful to God for all that I have been blessed with.

Misguided priorities

I love Christmas. I always have. So I finished wrapping the gifts, went upstairs and called the girls, asking them to all be home that weekend so we could decorate the naked tree standing in the living room. You see, for the first time since I could remember, our tree was not decorated because I was too busy doing the things I thought mattered more. When really, is there anything more lovely than sitting with your family around the tree and enjoying the beauty that is Christmas?

I have all that I need. I am blessed. Yes, I know that gifts are a part of Christmas but the best gifts we can give each other is our time and talent, our compassion and caring and our unconditional love. So this Christmas, take time for yourself and rejuvenate your spirit by spending time with family and friends. Remember those less fortunate and whenever you get the opportunity to let your inner child come out, do it! I will also be keeping Christ in Christmas.

My message to you is to get out and visit those you have not seen in a while and enjoy the love that surrounds you, but always stay close to home, wherever home is for you.

I’ll leave you with a quote by Calvin Coolidge:

“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

Merry Christmas to you and yours, from me and my family who will be “close to home” this Christmas.

— Michelle Bernadette Cleary-Haire resides in Harbour Grace, and is a former municipal leader. She is married, is the mother of three daughters, and is a teacher employed with the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.

Organizations: Spirit of Christmas Past, Spirit of Christmas Present, Spirit of Christmas Future

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Recent comments

  • Jerry Haire
    December 21, 2013 - 15:41

    Michelle very nice and thanks for letting us read your story and it does put in perspective what it all about.Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  • Penny Newhook
    December 19, 2013 - 20:33

    Michelle you are an mazing person always was and always will be. Merry Christmas to you and yours

  • Alice Quigley O'Keefe
    December 19, 2013 - 14:27

    Very nice indeed Michelle.

  • Sharon Young nee McCarthy
    December 19, 2013 - 11:35

    Thank you so much Michele.... You probably don't remember me but I grew up in Hr.Grace South and then in 1978-79, my family and I moved across the Harbour on Water St. Your story came @ the perfect time for me.. You see, my Son Mitchell and I have lost our beautiful Husband and Father, age 47, September 26th. .. We both have been dealing with grief, sadness and all the chaos that had to be seen too since... However, today I said to my Son earlier; this is the last day I am having to always be occupied with business affairs of all sorts....we never have a minute for each other just to sit and talk... We need to call it quits from all of this and get ready to go to Hr. Grace and be with the real things that matter most; the only Family and great friends that we now only have..... That's the most important thing for us now, to be with my family, friends and thank them all again for all the Love and support they have given us and to always let them know; as I do in my prayers everyday, how Blessed and Grateful I am for what I do have in my life! Also, to all my other friends, co-workers, FaceBook friends and Mitchells friends here in St.Philips and surrounding areas; Thank you all from the bottom of my Heart for all the Kindness, Caring and support you have shown us! Forever Grateful and truly Blessed Sharon & Mitchell