The ghosts of Christmas past

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 59 , No. 10 , December 2017 , Pages 497 President's Comment

My mother loved Christmas. She never met a Christmas decoration she didn’t like, and by early December every surface in our house was covered with Christmas decor: crèches, Santas, reindeer, tablecloths, wreaths, floral arrangements, special tableware, and numerous little Norwegian flags.


My mother loved Christmas. She never met a Christmas decoration she didn’t like, and by early December every surface in our house was covered with Christmas decor: crèches, Santas, reindeer, tablecloths, wreaths, floral arrangements, special tableware, and numerous little Norwegian flags. Our tree was adorned with ornaments of historical significance, including my faded kindergarten creations. My mother sewed, embroidered, crocheted, or somehow constructed many of our decorations herself. Over the holidays there was an excess of baking, with a variety of Scandinavian traditional fare. My job was to roll the krumkakke, a thin Norwegian cookie fried in a special cast-iron pan on the stove and hand rolled while extremely hot. We had school concerts, church services, carol singing, and social events. As a child, it was a busy and exciting time.

Along with this flurry of preparations, my mother had a vision of the perfect family Christmas—and of course, something always went awry. There were the usual sibling fights, and one year when we were teenagers we refused to dance around the tree singing songs in Norwegian. But despite the less-than-perfect family times, my mother continued to exuberantly celebrate this joyous event—up to and including the one shortly before she died. Our extended family (now numbering 12) were all there for a bittersweet celebration knowing it would be the last time we were all together. Despite her illness we had all the decorations and the food, even though she could no longer enjoy them. For my mother it was all about maintaining traditions, being together, appreciating each other, and seizing the moment to celebrate.

The reality is that Christmas presents challenges for most of us. The myths about the perfect holiday are pervasive, fueled by Hollywood drama and persistent advertising. Emotions are often close to the surface, and those who are lonely can feel isolated. This time of year typically sees an increase in both depression and alcohol-related injuries, and general consequences of overindulgence and holiday accidents. Expectations around family obligations can often be a source of tension rather than joy. 

In medicine there is the added dilemma about who will be on call on Christmas Day. My first Christmas in Golden, I of course, was the “lucky one” as the newest recruit. The others told me, “People in town are really considerate; it won’t be that busy.” Twenty-four hours, 32 patients, and five admissions later, I had to conclude they had not been entirely truthful with me. That or I have terrible karma, which is a distinct possibility.  

I have learned that how we cope with working over the holidays has a lot to do with expectations and attitude. Dividing the workload fairly, being considerate and supportive of your colleagues, and being mentally prepared for the increased volume of patients who really hope you can fix them right now makes a huge difference. There is camaraderie among those of us hanging out in the hospital on Christmas and New Year’s Eve that can be very rewarding. Taking time to celebrate and appreciate those you work with is always important, but especially during this time of year.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol used the ghosts of Christmas past and present to transform the future to something more positive. As a profession we have many challenges and issues from the past, but we also have much to be grateful for. As we approach the end of another year, let us focus on how best to build positive change within the profession and for health care in our province.

Regardless of one’s religious or cultural tradition, the month of December culminating with New Year’s Eve is a time of significance. So be sure to take the time for yourself, your families, and your friends to celebrate. Acknowledge the important contributions each of you makes to the practice of medicine in this province. I continue to be impressed the more I learn about the work you all do every day. I wish you and yours all the best for the holiday season and the coming year.
—Trina Larsen Soles, MD
Doctors of BC President

Trina Larsen Soles, MD. The ghosts of Christmas past. BCMJ, Vol. 59, No. 10, December, 2017, Page(s) 497 - President's Comment.



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