Last Christmas

last-christmas Last Christmas–the Christmas of 2015–was my father’s last, though there was no way any of us could have known that would be case at the time. There are probably dozens of people reading this post who could say the same. And there are many hundreds of thousands, millions actually, who can say that every Christmastime–if not about a father, then about a mother, a daughter, a son, a husband, a wife, a niece, a nephew, a old and oft-remembered teacher, or a distant and mostly-but-never-quite-entirely-forgotten friend. All these endings, all these lasts. It can really make one stop and think.

With Christmas having found its place in the Western Christian calendar so near to midwinter, and so near the traditional end of year, it’s not a surprise so much Christian art–poems, carols, stories, hymns, and more–are about endings, longings, and loss. (“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams,” only scratches the surface.) Such an awareness of those who have gone on, of those who we now mourn, of the missed chances and dreams deferred–that’s central to how our understanding of the holiday has evolved. If we didn’t have a chance to have “last Christmases,” we wouldn’t have a reason to look back on the ones which came before, or look forward to the ones to come. That looking back doesn’t haven’t to be mournful, necessarily, but it does lend a pensiveness, a subdued stillness, even a touch of darkness, to this holiday–perhaps appropriately so. Christmases, from this year’s to last year’s to the last one we experience here on earth, are a way of marking time, and the marking of time marks us as well.

Lots of us kept a morbid track of those who breathed their last in 2016, celebrities mostly: Bowie, Rickman, Prince, Haggard, Cohen, Jones. One of the last was taken from us just two weeks ago: Greg Lake, a pioneer of progressive rock. But for all the great and influential music which he created with King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Lake is–again, appropriately–perhaps best remembered for “I Believe in Father Christmas,” his somber tale of losing faith and, yet, at the same time, still maintaining hope in the magic of Christmastime, a tune which I think may well be the finest pop Christmas song of the 20th century. Lake won’t see another Christmas here on earth, and we’re poorer for it–but he left his mark on our remembrance of the holiday, as did all of those whom we miss this season. May we all, in the time we have left, do the same.

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the virgin’s birth

I remember one Christmas morning
A winter’s light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a silent night
And they told me a fairy story
’till I believed in the Israelite

And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked to the sky with excited eyes
’till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him through his disguise

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish, pain, and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on earth
Hallelujah, noel, be it heaven or hell
The Christmas we get we deserve


  1. Thank you for this.

    Keith Emerson, ELP’s keyboardist, also passed away this year. A hard year for ELP fans.

  2. Mary Lythgoe Bradfford says:

    My therapist friend says that our loved ones tend to die at the dying of the year–true of my husband Charles who died on his birthday Dec 11–

  3. 2016 did not take even the holiday off. Man. “Last Christmas,” indeed. George Michael, RIP.

  4. Martha Kay says:

    I realize this world is a difficult place, with much sorrow and loss. I too grieve lost loved ones and perhaps most of all, the losses that come from not experiencing here in mortality the fulfillment of all the great promises of the gospel plan. But I need to look forward to their ultimate fulfillment. I do not want my life to be bittersweet. I want hope to triumph.

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