When I was growing up, I was the kid who loved Christmas. I made ornaments for the tree, insisted that we decorate with every last swag of plastic holly, and practically turned myself inside out with excitement waiting for my parents to get up on Christmas morning so we could go downstairs and see what Santa had brought.
Even when I got older, I still loved the decorating and cookie baking. In my first horrible little apartment, I had a real tree in the living room and started my ornament collection from a store called Santa's Surplus.
In 1998, my mother died not long before Christmas. She'd been on a steady decline from lung cancer and we knew it was coming to the extent that we hadn't even bought her any gifts. Ever since then, all the excitement I used to feel about the holidays pretty much vanished.
Once my niece was born, and later my nephew, I regained a flicker of the old holiday spirit through their eyes, but it still wasn't the same. Some years I didn't even put up a tree or decorations at my house, and I let the annual cookie party become sporadic.
This year is different. All year long I've actually been looking forward to the holidays. I've been buying gifts and squirreling them away almost since last Christmas. I scheduled my cookie party well ahead of time and I'm expecting more than a dozen attendees. I even invited my niece and nephew to spend the night last weekend so we could decorate the tree and choose the best wreaths and garlands to put up in the living room.
I'm looking forward to Christmas Eve with my dad and stepmother. She's cooking a Christmas goose! I've never had goose before.
Christmas Day now has its own set of traditions at my sister's house and we'll no doubt cook an enormous meal for the extended family and any friends who would like to join us. I can hardly wait to see everyone unwrap the gifts I've been putting aside for them.
I'm not quite sure what makes this year different. Is it the healing power of time? Is it because I'm happy in general? I'm not inclined to question too closely. I just hope it means my decade of grinchiness is finally over for good.