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The Ghosts of Holidays Past

An adult daughter searches for the joy in the season, despite memories of distressing family scenes.

I love the holidays. I really do. Give me cold weather outdoors, a crackling fire indoors, tantalizing smells from the kitchen, a glass of eggnog and a roomful of people I love, and I’m in heaven.

Only problem is, that scenario’s rare. What’s more familiar is the nervous juggling act of pulling together an elaborate feast, the confluence of different—and difficult—personalities, the hopes and expectations surrounding gift-giving… It’s enough to make your head spin with worry.

Those Hallmark commercials make family gatherings look easy, even blissful. But that’s not real life—at least, not where I come from.

Real life is having a mother who’s so anxious about the dinner she’s preparing, she can’t take the time to enjoy visiting with friends and family. Real life is being around a moody, critical father who won’t hesitate to complain about dinner starting late or the turkey being dry, thus embarrassing his wife in front of guests. (No wonder mother’s so worried about the meal.) Real life is wondering if that very same father, who has an unpredictable temper, is going to fly off the handle if your mom innocently questions his method of carving the turkey.

Hardly cozy sentiments of the greeting-card variety.

When I was younger and lived at home, I met the holidays with equal parts joyful anticipation and dread. I delighted in having the day off from school or work, lazing under the warm bedcovers with visions of Mom’s stuffing and pumpkin pie dancing in my head. But uncertainty about how the day would play out would feed discomforting fears, and I would rise to the occasion with no small amount of trepidation.

The Ghosts of Holidays Past

Sherrie Mcgregor, Ph.D.

APA Reference
Mcgregor, S. (2020). The Ghosts of Holidays Past. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.