There are time machines. You might not believe me, but there are. Perhaps not stylish ones like Marty McFly’s Delorean machine, but we have them.
In an essay written by Hugh Leonard in the 80s, he utilises an allusion to Proust’s work In Search of Times Past to illuminate this idea.
For Proust, the simple act of dipping a Madeleine in a cup of tea transported him back to the days of his childhood. For Leonard, polishing shoes had the same effect. In this banal act, he found his way back to the Christmas’ of his childhood.
Well, I have my own time machine, my own Delorean. Whenever I stand back from the annual Hogan Christmas tree and bask in the splendour of it all with my wife and kids, I immediately quantum leap back into the skin of a young boy.
A boy who believes in the magic of it all. My brothers are there, I’m 6, maybe 8. My middle brother is squinting, goose-stepping the circumference of the great tree figuring out if the symmetry is off, ‘we need more tear drops on the left side, this is ridiculous, and who put the star next to the tinsel?’
The ‘Rainman’ of Christmas trees, that was his nickname. My neighbour’s daughter is there, much to the annoyance of my brothers, whose protestations are met with eye rolls from my mother and myself. My father doesn’t make the memory.
He must be somewhere else. And every year as I step back from the tree, I make my way down through the sinuous recesses of my mind to that time. And every year as I slowly come to consciousness, out of that memory, I think about what Leonard was saying in his essay.
For Leonard, the only true paradises are those we have lost. There is a profound sense of yearning for times past in his essay. He suggests that the 1980s were certainly not a time of magic and wonder. He is suspicious of the video machine toiling away recording different programmes.
The child of the 1980s, as Leonard saw it, was overindulged to the point of not being able to see the newness and wonder in Christmas. I was a child of the 1980s. I don’t remember overindulgence. I remember simplicity. I remember the Christmas tree, my grandmother, the end of her sherry containing stories about the War and her husband.
I remember the summit of the day; calling over to my friend trawling through whatever goodies we had received that year. It certainly wasn’t a bounty. I remember the turkey sandwich his father always made and not wanting to go to sleep, for sleep would usher in the furthest point to Christmas.
Leonard was a child of the 1930s, or the hungry ’30s, as they are also known. This time is his lost paradise. The ’80s are my last paradise. I wonder, what he would make of our world today. The world of rapid information and technological dissemination. A world of social media and digital TV. I can’t but help think that my own children do not have that same wonder I had as a child of the 1980s.
I often feel that they receive so much throughout the year that Christmas has lost some of its magic. It’s just another day they get more stuff. Or is that the flaw of each generation? Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris explores this idea.
At the stroke of midnight, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is transported back to the 1920s in Paris. Pender is a struggling novelist and has a particular penchant for this time in Paris’s history. It’s a time of great jazz and artistic expression.
Pender meets a plethora of his heroes, T.S Eliot, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Dali, to mention a few.
But what he finds is that all these celebrated artists living in this great time are looking back to a previous time they believe is much more significant and interesting than the time they are living in. And I think that’s what Leonard’s story brings up for me.
I think we always look back to times past through rose-tinted glasses. Nostalgia claws her way into our thoughts so that we find the present deficient somehow. So when I view my own children as not having the same wonder and excitement as I had, perhaps I’m doing them a disservice.
Perhaps, I’m wrong. And perhaps Leonard is wrong when he says true miracles only happen once a year, maybe the real miracles are those small moments that occur every day. The moments that we don’t see because we see them so much.
The ghosts of our Christmases past are always in our present. As adults, it’s easy to lose our own sense of wonder about it all. We can be dismissive of the present, because the past tends to be perfect. But we must remember that we are building future memories for our own children.
This Christmas will soon be a golden memory for your child that will sustain them in the future. Try to be present this Christmas, and enjoy the now. After all, it’s all we really have.
I wonder do my children have the same wonder I had as a child of the 1980s.