It seems like every year the decorations begin going up in stores earlier and earlier. This year, I was able to spot Christmas trees lining the aisles of Michael’s and Hobby Lobby. Shockingly, (and quick pleasingly, in all honesty) I found that the radio stations in Minot began playing Christmas music starting the afternoon of Thanksgiving — and not a moment before.
It’s not that I’m a Grinch. I love the holiday season — the glitter, the bright colors, the excitement of seeing family and friends, of eating great food and the inevitable downward trend in the amount of work to be done. But I also love Thanksgiving. And Halloween. I love savoring the last vestiges of fall, as leaves change colors and there’s a crisp feeling in the afternoon. I love the first snowfall, too, and lights in the windows.
We always had a bit of a family tradition when it came to decking the halls. We weren’t allowed to decorate until the day after Thanksgiving.
My brothers would have to haul the tree up from the basement (my parents would never let us have a real tree because we always left town for the holidays for a 4-5 day trip to visit family near Chicago). They’d grumble and complain as they set up the tree. Mom would take the time to make a fantastic breakfast spread, and I would wrap garland around the banisters near the stairwell. Dad was always suspiciously absent for this portion of work.
After breakfast we would all sit down and deck the tree together. Every year one of our stocking stuffers was an ornament, and we’d each put our own ornaments on the tree. As we became teenagers, several of my brothers began hating the family togetherness, but I always enjoyed it.
My dad collected townhouses — or “collected” them, since in the end he only had six or seven of them. When I was young we set them up around the base of our tree. When we moved we routinely moved our little village — sometimes to the top of dining furniture, another year to a sideboard, and every now and again near the bookcases. We’d fight over who got to set up the houses, not because of any nostalgia, but primarily because it was the least labor-intensive of the decorations.
THe nativity was always mine to set up, mostly because I have always been incredibly type-A. The one year that one of my brothers was allowed to set up the nativity I shortly went crazy and had to rearrange all of the figurines. The nativity has developed in our family home — it used to be a childlike nativity, with young figures resembling Precious Moments figures. They all had bright colors. Now my parents decorate with olive wood sets that are polished and simple – not even a face painted on.
Then there were the decorations that we had made as children, an odd mismatch of arts and crafts. My mother and I made crepe angels one year. They’ve been slowly falling apart over the years, and I have to take care to wrap them more carefully than anything else. The “Breakfast with Santa” ornaments have disappeared over the years, but I still encounter little reminders of childhood whenever I open the box that houses all of my decorations.
The one thing that we never had was a holiday centerpiece. Our table was reserved for eating and doing homework. We never had a centerpiece growing up, though we did have stockings and outdoor lights and a thousand other little touches that I haven’t quite managed to pick up yet.
I was talking to a friend the other day who noted that he always loves visiting others during the holidays, and seeing the traditions within their family. Nowhere is that clearer than in preparations for Christmas. I still stand by the traditions that my mother raised us with — no decorations until after Christmas, the nativity goes up immediately after the tree, and decorations remain until Pentecost. My ornaments are still a mishmash that demonstrate the highlights and events of my life, and every decoration can be tied to a moment or a person.
Decorating for Christmas isn’t exciting just because of the glitter, lights, and color (although that’s a part of it!) but because it’s like wrapping myself up in a big cocoon of memories. I get to live within a little globe of happy memories and shroud myself with family and friends.
Also, it makes for great backgrounds for all the photos!