As you get older, your memory begins to play tricks on you.

I’m not referring to dementia. That’s a totally different problem. No, it’s the way humans compress time and memories plus how we end up corrupting our memories every time we access them. If you’re one of those people who tends to embellish stories, the embellishments, over time, may become real in your mind to the point that you can’t tell the difference between real and added.

Christmas is one of those experiences that either by compression or embellishment gets a little murky.

For example, I remember the first Christmas with Tim. We put him under the tree and took his picture. He was only a few months old at that point, in one of those adorable footie onesies they make for babies, and I confess, sometimes I want one for me. I think it would be great to curl up in a onesie with feet in it and watch DuckTales. Sipping hot chocolate. In a pillow fort. But I digress. Anyway, my memory of that event is clear. Almost. My memory has vaguely-blue walls and hardwood floors with a bigger tree, and I know that the picture would show a skinny tree and white walls. Why is my memory different? Simple. I remember it as if it happened in our current house, but Tim’s first Christmas was in Lancaster!

And Joy just informed me that he wasn’t wearing a onesie but a green Christmas sweater.

This memory thing is harder than I thought.

Compression of place is not as bad as compression of time. I barely remember Christmas 2019, for pandemic-related reasons, but I’m pretty sure I’ve compressed a lot of Christmases with Joy into kind of a Hallmark Movie Montage.

Then there’s the problem of self-image at Christmas. For the longest time at the Bundy Family Gatherings, I considered myself one of the younger members of the family. I am not. So when one of my cousins suggested that I was both old and fat enough to play Santa Claus, I was both shocked and insulted. I mean, they weren’t wrong, but I’m sure there was a more tactful way to remind me of my age at a big family Christmas party! Now I realize that the levels of age at family parties adjust, as the older generation moves to the Land of Eternal Christmas, our generation moves up and creates a new younger generation. Honestly, though, I’m not sure when that transition happened.

Next, there’s the memory corruption problem. Every time we reopen a memory, we import all our current experiences and points of view into that memory. This means that no memory is pure, and every time we access it, we alter it in subtle ways that make it difficult to revert the file back to the original. When I tell the story of how I found out that Santa wasn’t real, it’s a fun little tale of insomnia and Christmas hijinks. I discovered that my sister remembers me finding out about Santa in a 100% different manner! I have no memory of her recollection, and she has no recollection of mine. BUT IT’S MY MEMORY! The two stories can’t both be true. Can they?

That’s the thing, I don’t know. When you unpack the added data to my sister’s memory, you get an understanding of her view of me now, not so much who I was back then. If you look at my memory’s background information, you find that I tend to make my childhood more comedic, so my memory might not be exactly true. However, I doubt I made it up out of whole cloth, and I think the same is true of my sister.

Since I’m trying to be more deliberate and in-the-moment this Christmas, I feel the need to report on my Christmas activities like I’m at a school board meeting, but that’s really dry and by-the-book. Perhaps part of the magic of Christmas is how the memories change in our minds over time. This Christmas might be the best Christmas ever, only to be topped by Christmases yet to come. Since every Christmas is Last Christmas, as The Doctor said, maybe the mix of people at this one will become Peak Christmas, never to be topped again as those people fade out of our lives.

I am comfortable that my sister and I remember my Christmas Deconstruction differently. I am not comfortable that my weight is why I’d make a good Family Santa. But while my nine year old still has some childlike wonder left in him, I will do my best to make this Christmas one worth compressing, embellishing, or misremembering.

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Andrew Bundy is a husband, father, teacher, writer, and nerd. You can reach him at bundycolumn@gmail.com.

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