The Middle: Leftovers

This Christmas I realized something… there are a lot of leftover feelings and memories that cloud the holidays for me. Melancholy falls on me as Christmas approaches and shift my experience, as hard as I try to surround myself with merriment and new memories.

As a child and well into my twenties, Christmas was the big day— a day when my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my mother and my siblings all gathered together to share a beautiful holiday. There were personalities abounding, wonderful food, great times and difficult times, but we all loved each other and Christmas was filled with joy.

Over the years we have moved in different directions, emotionally and geographically. The reasons are many and complex, as is the case in so many families. Several of the people who were a part of my Christmases past have died, my mother last December. This was my first Christmas without her—the first Christmas ever without any of my biological family here.  It was particularly difficult on many levels, even though I had a wonderful time with good friends, who have become much like family.

It was impossible not to think of Mom most of the weekend and all day Christmas. She loved Christmas. Yet this Christmas as I sat alone in my living room, carols on the stereo and the lights giving a beautiful glow to the room, I felt more like my mother than I’ve ever felt. I listened to the music and thought of her. I thought of the family I don’t see (much) of anymore, the family who I don’t see enough of, the friends who fill the whole. And the melancholy descended. I sat quietly in the room, surrounded by the beautiful tree and I missed what is gone; I missed what used to be; I missed what should or might be—what isn’t. As I did this, I suddenly felt like I understood something about my mother that I’d never got at the time.

When I saw her sit alone by the tree each year, staring off at the lights, I believed that she was just enjoying the music, spending a moment of holiday quiet. As I sat there the other day however, I realized that she too felt melancholy. I now recognize the look that escaped me then. She was thinking of her past, perhaps remembering us when we were little, just as I now reflect on my own (mostly) grown children. She was hoping to understand her children better as they got older, and wishing to forge good relationships with them. She was wondering how to fix things with her siblings. She was remembering things that are gone, and hoping for new and positive ways to move past the things she regretted.

I think that Christmas is a mixed bag for a lot of people, and I am one of them. The lights, the smells, the food, the music, the music, the music all around—all of these things are what make Christmas so special each year. These things are also the very things that take me back through time and turn my thoughts inside out. So I go to the refrigerator and I dig around amongst the piles of ham, and scalloped potatoes, and pies and I begin to move through the leftovers.

What comes up for you at Christmas? Is it always cheery and bright, or do you feel a little melancholy too? Share your thoughts; share this post, and if it touched you, please take a minute to hit Like.

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
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21 Responses to The Middle: Leftovers

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    For many of us, as we get older, Christmas is laced with melancholy. Plus, I think given the many responsibilities that come with Christmas preparation, the magic is often dampened. But I try to counteract the melancholy and recapture some of the magic by starting new traditions with my own family and enjoying the process through my kids’ eyes..


  2. mamaheidi60 says:

    We just ate leftover strata and I said leftovers are always great – strata is always better the second day. So, I was hooked by your title to see what you would have to say about leftovers. You know I love your writing and am so intrigued by where you go with it! For the last few years, for me, the holidays have just gotten better. For a number of years when I was in my 20’s, I avoided spending the holidays with my family. Too much drama, horrible relationship with my mom. The Big Guy and I traveled because we had two weeks off from school every year and it was so much easier to just be gone. After we had a child, we stayed home and joined back in with the family, following the traditions I grew up with because Big Guy had none. Then my sibs and I really got together as kids were coming along and hashed out what was meaningful and what WERE we going to keep as meaningful to us and to our growing families (well, their’s grew more than ours). We all have actually simplified both Thanksgiving and Christmas soooo much. We have fallen into keeping some routines and added new ones. I guess I feel like we’ve really grown up because we just focus on being together! No gift giving or buying frenzy for extended family. We’ve discovered that we can change it up and still be happy – world doesn’t fall apart! If we just want mashed potatoes and salad and no other vegetables – cool. The bond with my brother and sister is so strong! They and only they know what it was like in our house growing up. We celebrate having been able to make different homes for our own families and love looking around at the kids who are who they are. I miss my dad – really loved having the family together. My Mom has Alzheimers and so there is no longer the kind of relationship we had. This Christmas, she talked to me as if I were my sister. First time she didn’t know which one of us was which. For some people whose parents have Alzheimers, there is so much sadness around the memory loss. For my sibs and I, my mom has become more mellow. Taking care of her and making sure she is cared for and kept safe is important, no doubt about it, but there is a relief in not having the difficult relationship any more. Wow, I’ve really gone off on a tangent. Well, Dawn, thanks for giving me space to get this out!


    • Thanks for sharing Heidi! Meaningful thoughts and relevant to all I was expressing. I agree that things got a lot mellower with my mother as she got sicker and her memory changed. That part was good. I enjoyed her, as much as I wished she wasn’t struggling. My sibs however and I have not gotten closer and that is sad for me. I’m not sure how to change that, but letting go of it is a process. I still miss extended family, but it is a tangled web as well. I think things do fall into perspective as we get older, and that helps… knowing that this too shall pass. I think this year, was just a little harder. Thanks again for sharing, friend. xox


  3. Beautifully written, Dawn. You hit the nail on the head. I’m right there with you. I love the idea of “leftovers.” I feel like I AM a leftover. So many layers to sift through over this holiday, it’s no wonder so many of us are feeling melancholy.
    Connecting with your mom by recognizing what she was likely feeling back in her day, is comforting, in a way. There’s a whole lot of continuity in this one small and quiet reflection of yours. It’s very satisfying.
    Thanks for sharing this insight.


    • I have thought of you so many times over the last couple of weeks Lisa. I knew this year would be especially tough. You are NOT leftovers, and my wish for you in this new year is that you move through your loss and grief, and realize what a very hurtful thing your partner has done… it is not about you, it is all about who he is! If, even symbolically, you an see this new year as a time for shifting and letting some of it go, I believe that very good things will be coming your way… All of that said, I hear you that THIS Christmas was painful, and I totally understand why. Hang in there blog friend. xo


  4. Patti Winker says:

    Thank you, Dawn. It’s hard to say more than that. You have expressed so many of my feelings of Christmas. Far away from my ‘family of origin’ and all I remember of Christmases from long ago, I mostly feel wistful and melancholy now. It’s harder to find those few special moments. Thank heavens for Christmas plays and recitals to enjoy my grandkids. My Mom and Dad made a big deal out of Christmas and they’ve been gone a long time now. All our Aunts and Uncles are gone. We work hard at maintaining the memories with our siblings and cousins and all the next generation – at least as much as they will listen. You are absolutely right – Christmas feels like leftovers now.


    • I guess I don’t mean to say that it’s all leftovers, for me, Patti— but you clearly share some of my thoughts. I too am far away from so many people, and there are (sadly) some bumps in that road anyway. My kids have been raised with Judaism as their primary faith, and so see Christmas as a bit of an anomaly. They love it too, but don’t have the background I have. I know my daughter will not have continue Christmas in her own home, and I think for my sons it will depend entirely on who they marry. Thanks for your thoughtful response.


  5. Another lovely, sentimental yet poignant post.
    Thanks for sharing and all good things for you and family in 2013.


    • Thanks Lisa! All the best to you as well! Tangerine Tango is selling very well at our local book store. I have several friends who have ordered on line, but a bunch of local friends bought it here as well. Hope it continues to do well in the new year! Best wishes to you and your family.


  6. Anonymous says:

    I feel this also. Even though it’s a happy time, filled with love and new possibilities, I find an underlying melancholy (sometimes tinged with guilt and regret) surfacing after the gifts are open and acknowledged. The past has a way of pervading, especially at holidays. It’s not all bad, but it’s there. Thanks for putting it so well.


    • Thank you for reading my post and sharing your thoughts. It matters that others experience these feelings… a bit easier to digest when shared. No, it’s not all bad at all—but I would like to find better ways of letting some of it go. All the best in 2013!


  7. Anonymous says:

    I feel this also. For me, it’s melancholy, tinged with guilt and regret. The past has a way of surfacing in quiet moments at holiday times: after the gifts have been opened and acknowledged, the dishes washed and put away, and the company departed. Even though the holiday is full of love and new possibilities, there’s also remembrance of times past. A mixed bag for sure. Thanks for putting it into much better words than I can!


    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Seems we are on a very similar page! I’m not sure I put it all that better actually 😉 but I appreciate you saying so. Thanks for taking the time to read the post, and special thanks for sharing your own thoughts. All the best in 2013!


  8. Lillian says:

    Definitely with you on this dichotomy of joy and melancholy at the holidays. For me, it’s so many of the obligations that put such a damper on things. This year felt much more peaceful for the first time ever and I was so thankful for that. I think it was the perspective of everything happening in CT recently combined with job loss and less money to spend on stuff and family happenings that had to take precedent over holiday happenings. It forced us to simplify a bit and meant that a lot of the fluff was taken away and the focus on togetherness was the main priority. My kids being little still at least keeps some of that wonder and joyfulness around, but even that element is hard to balance with all of the things it feels like we “should” do and it’s just not possible to do it all.

    p.s. Scalloped potatoes sound so good – I think I need to make some now;)


    • I agree: simplifying does help a lot! It’s all very overwhelming… and I often think that the childhood magic we remember was because we felt no responsibility for the outcomes. Whether I see myself as a fairly feminist woman, modern, etc, it all still seems to fall on/ to me. That weight is heavy… not just at the holidays. I also think that having little ones around does keep the magic going a lot longer… when they get older, there is added cynicism… “We don’t need that Mom… This is do commercial…etc” Or, the lack of appreciation for the efforts you make, versus whether you got the right thing. Feh!

      Scalloped potatoes are heaven! I actually made Julia Child’s Gratin, without the ham in there. The roux and the gruyere make the whole thing just unbearably great!


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