At the stroke of midnight the Ghost of Christmas Past barged into my room and shoved a sheaf of legal papers into my face.
"What's this?" I asked.
"I thought we had an agreement!" she growled, wiping drops of sweat from a faintly mustachioed upper lip. "It says right here on the contract: You give your heart and soul to make Christmas beautiful for everyone, no matter the cost, and I don't have to come here during the busy holiday season and harangue you in the middle of the night."
I rolled my eyes. "Been there, done that," I said. "Now go away and let me sleep."
"Just a cotton-picking minute," she said. "You may have done amazing things in the past--"
"May have?" I asked. "Since when is baking 14 dozen cookies 'may have'? And what about the year I sewed a dozen costumes for the children's Christmas program and successfully wrapped both a sandbox and a wheelbarrow?"
"Yeah yeah whatever, next you'll go on and on about all those Christmas letters with their cutesy little family photos--and by the way, while we're on the subject, why didn't you write a Christmas letter this year? Why no outdoor lights on the house? Why no cookies in tins all over the kitchen? And what's with all those orders for gift baskets from Harry and David?"
"Tired? You don't know from tired. Try knocking on the door of every Scrooge on the planet and listening to his whinging--'Everyone else got to spend Christmas with their families but I had to stay in the schoolroom by myself'--Whah whah whah. Tired is no excuse."
"But I've been sick! And busy! And no one reads those stupid letters--hey, stop that!"
She'd rolled up the sheaf of papers and bonked me on the nose--hard. "Stupid? You don't know from stupid. Try looking into a magic hat and seeing all these sickly-sweet holiday scenes in soft focus while panpipes play gently in the background. It's enough to turn your stomach."
"So why do it?"
"Because it's Christmas! And if you can't send sentimental slop to your friends and loved ones at Christmas, when are you going to do it?"
I had to admit that she had a point. Suddenly scenes from past Christmases flashed before my eyes in soft focus, with panpipes playing: the hours spent stirring fudge on the stove, licking envelopes, baking little loaves of cranberry nut bread for my colleagues, rolling and cutting and baking and frosting cookies, sewing matching holiday outfits for the children, sending my friends and loved ones gifts hand-made with love. Surveying the vast landscape of Christmases past filled me with warm feelings of love and joy followed by the intense desire to kick my past self firmly in the shins and yell "Stop! You're setting the bar too high! One day you won't have the energy to do all this and you'll spend the entire holiday season feeling guilty!"
But it turns out that making physical contact with a past version of yourself makes time go all wibbly-wobbly. Something fizzled like a small appliance shorting out and when the smoke cleared, I was alone. The Ghost of Christmas Past had disappeared, leaving behind only the faint scent of flatulence. (I blame the figgy pudding.)
I'd like to say that the visit from the Ghost left me a better, stronger, more generous person, but I would be lying. I was snoring within minutes, and while it's true that visions of sugarplums were dancing in my head, I took comfort in knowing that if any real sugarplums were to end up at my house, someone else would have to make them.