They say humans are the only animals who experience nostalgia.
Well, they USED to say that. I have no doubt that some zoologist somewhere has determined that dolphins, chimps and a host of other mammals have the smarts to grieve for the loss of a parent, child or close companion, but there’s a difference between nostalgia and grief. Nostalgia is bittersweet — a longing for days gone by that doesn’t break your heart, but only heightens the enjoyment of the here and now.
The winter holidays are traditionally ripe for bouts of nostalgia. This year, as in every other, I’m thinking about the big-ass colored lights that surrounded the windows of my grandmother’s enclosed porch — you remember the ones I mean? After about five minutes, they got too hot to handle, and if one bulb blew, the whole string went dark?
I’m recalling the taste of my grandmother’s Stollen, which is a German fruit bread that is NOTHING like fruitcake. My beloved middle sister has taken over the Stollen-baking duties since the death of my grandmother and — make no mistake — her efforts ROCK. But there’s something about the memory of sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table and eating thick slabs of dry bread studded with fruit and nuts and slathered with margarine that will always make me yearn for Christmas of old.
There are certain Christmas carols that take me back to high school (in the Dark Ages, when they allowed Christmas carols to be sung in public schools, and yes, I understand why they don’t anymore and I support the separation of church and state, but still, I MISS IT) when the senior boys spent one gym class tramping through the local wooded lot and cutting down a tree for the foyer of the school, while the girls spent the same class singing carols and snipping out snowflakes, snowmen and paper chains to decorate said tree. (Sexist, I know. I knew it then, too, and I was okay with it. And yeah, they LET US HAVE A TREE. *sigh*)
The best song I know to inspire that bittersweet rush in me is the late Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne.” It’s not the most venerable carol, having been released in 1981 (and not even at Christmastime, but smack in the middle of my freshman year of high school) but I remember listening to it on the radio and imagining what it would be like to be a fully-formed adult, looking back on the good times of my youth.
I don’t have to imagine anymore.
What are you nostalgic for this holiday season?