I started listening to Christmas carols a month ago.

I confess, the holiday season comes a bit early for me; most of my friends refuse to deck the halls or even talk about gift shopping before Thanksgiving.

My eagerness to celebrate Christmas, however, doesn't go without its reasons. The holidays brim with memories of past years and of times spent with loved friends and family.

The smell of a fresh Christmas tree fills me with excited expectation; strains of the "Nutcracker" take me to my family's home when the soft echoes would fill our house on calm, dark December nights.

Holidays are all about celebrating and creating memories.

Memories play a powerful role in how we perceive others and ourselves; our minds teem with thoughts of the past, and these very remembrances have enormous power.

Memories, when woven together, create the very fabric by which we define ourselves. Our understanding of our lives and our ideas about future events come from a projection based on past experience.

Memories can be really beautiful. Holidays are perfect for reminiscing over the happy times you've spent with people you love.

Not all memories, however, recall warm smiles and laughter. Our pasts don't consist solely of happy times. In fact, it sometimes seems the painful memories—the moments we paused, the opportunities we lost, the things we said, the things we didn't — are the memories that stick. Our memories compose our ideas about our limitations, our fears and ultimately, our future.

I find myself deeply aware of those past times more than I'd like to admit.

If the events of my life are like a film, then I tend to rewind. I slow down at the parts I'd rather forget, pause, and imagine all the other things I could have done. It's as if I believe that analyzing the past will somehow change it.

Honestly, I think I spend way too much time worrying about things that have already happened.

The past is unchangeable, but the future is full of opportunity. Remaining mired in the things we cannot change does little service to ourselves, and can greatly impede our progress into the future.

Literary theorists often discuss the importance of what our past does to our mental psyche; F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, contends that our strivings into the future render us "boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." People seem allegedly unable to break free of the bonds we create within our memories.

I think we have the power to decide.

Some people will remain a persistent product of the past; some people will choose to move towards a different destination, despite past experience.

Admittedly, not all can be forgotten; the person I am today, along with everyone else, is a very intricate compilation of many different factors, including internal scars — the carefully hidden secrets, the moments that make us cringe. But that shame, depending on a person's mentality, will contribute in varying degrees to the most important opinion of all: our opinion of ourselves.

Our attitudes about what we can and cannot do, based on our memories, powerfully shape our actions — also known as the "self-fulfilling prophecy." Expecting a bad outcome, therefore, tends to result in a bad outcome; anticipating a good outcome can often generate a good outcome. We live according to our perception of our capabilities, based upon our memories and subsequent conclusions. This can either be extremely helpful or utterly incapacitating.

As Christmas approaches, the days will be full of tradition and reminiscing. Embrace the past, for it offers a lot of lessons and reminders, both pleasant and painful — but don't remain stuck in the moments that cannot be changed, and don't let past failures hold you back from the opportunity to forge wholeheartedly into the future.

And have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Sarah Hagaman is a sophomore in English. She can be reached at shagama@utk.edu.