|Image via Kris De Curtis|
When I was in my early teens, I spent many December evenings lying on the floor with my head beneath our fake Christmas tree, looking up through the papery-plastic branches at the colored lights we’d woven through the ever-ever-evergreen. (My parents have had the same tree for twenty years now; it’s still going strong.) I was trying to recapture a feeling—a memory of an experience that seemed so specific and real—of transcendent wonder that I felt at some singular moment in early childhood, while lying under the Christmas tree.
Now that I know a little more about the inner-workings of nostalgia, I know that the original experience which I was trying to re-create probably never really happened. Nostalgia is funny like that. It is a feeling based on idealized memory; it is a trick of the brain in which past events are recalled as we wish they had occurred. There is a mournful aspect to nostalgia, and I don’t think it’s just because it involves longing for a time that is past and cannot be revisited; I think the gentle sadness that accompanies nostalgia has also to do with a subconscious awareness that our most beautiful memories are of things that never really happened, at least, not the way we remember them.
|Image via Royce Bair|
It is fascinating that nostalgia’s richer, more intense German cousin sehnsucht includes “addiction” as part of its meaning; it speaks to a yearning so powerful that it has to be filled with something, even if that something is just a place-holder. And I can’t help but wonder if the ever-inflating consumption and consumerism that takes place during the winter months have less to do with pure greed and gluttony and more to do with satisfying our desperate need to believe that transcendent moments of pure joy and wonder are able to be orchestrated or contrived—and our deep sadness at knowing they are not. It’s the sehnsucht of Christmas that pushes us to buy, to decorate, to stress out about traditions. It’s all about chasing that beautiful moment.
|Image via Jack Fussell|
Charity Erickson and her husband live and work together in the north woods of Minnesota. Check out her blog for more of her writing and follow her on Twitter @CharityJill.
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