As I hauled our luggage out of the attic last week, I glanced at the boxes labeled “Christmas” with a black Sharpie. Those three boxes contain my entire collection of Christmas decorations. By most standards, it’s a meager collection—a couple of mangy stuffed snowmen holding dusty brooms, a few chipped Santa-head mugs, and one artificial tree that’s probably infested with mites. The tree’s already decorated because by the time February rolls around, I’m so over it that I cover it with a garbage sack and drag it back to the attic like the corpse of Christmas past.
But that day I smiled sheepishly when I saw the Christmas boxes, like I was getting away with something. Because I was.
This year, we came home for the holidays to stay with our families who happen to live in the same town in the Pacific Northwest. And inside 24-hours of landing, my mother-in-law was showering our daughter with gifts and spoon-feeding my husband and me dinner (he’s her “Golden Boy” and I am the “Golden Womb”—the provider of progeny). It’s not a bad gig. But the best part is that I get to dodge the decorating.
Every year for as long as I can remember, my mother transformed my childhood home into a Winter Wonderland. But the transformation was not overnight, nor was it magical. See, Mom has a lot of stuff. Think cut crystal, porcelain plates with creepy faces hand-painted on them, and black-and-white family portraits of deceased relatives staring blankly from behind their glass encasements. But after Thanksgiving, my sister, mom and I would dutifully lug half the contents of the house upstairs, where it was stored for the “off season.” But even when we removed the fall decorations one armload of china at a time, we only created enough space for the platoon of plastic poinsettia arrangements, because jammed in mom’s attic were 15 boxes, 6 garbage bags, and 5 free-floating wreaths of Christmas calamity that I had to lift from the depths of the attic and carry downstairs, sweating and straining, because I was the “sturdy one,” while my post-back-op Mom and pasty sister sat in chairs, unwrapping the ornaments. I wanted to get to the tree decorating, but after watching Mom reposition every Christmas ball I hung, and hearing her say, “Oh, not this year, honey” when I put up the pastel paper mache ice-cream cone ornaments I made in 3rd grade, I lost interest. So I rested my spasming back the couch and listened to Mom grumble about having to do all the work and how next year was going to be different.
It was. With each passing year, the boxes multiplied like reindeer pellets.
But once all the decorations were up—garland hanging from every curtain, doorway and lampshade—you could stand in the one-square-foot of sacred space in the middle of every room, spin with outstretched arms, and touch artificial greenery and overheated twinkle lights in every direction.
I never caught the Christmas-decorating bug, but at the same time, I can’t imagine experiencing Christmas without feeling as if I’m encased in a plastic pine tree. This year I reluctantly did my post-Thanksgiving duty and hauled Mom’s Christmas boxes from the attic. But come time to decorate the tree, I questioned the quality of last-night’s stuffing and sought refuge in the bathroom. My 4-year-old daughter is still naïve and was excited to help her Grandma decorate. I smiled as I heard Mom tell her that she could “hang all the brass ornaments,” of which there are maybe five. The rest are oversized blown-glass pieces that that have slowly replaced the “outdated” ornaments one paper mache ice-cream cone at a time.
Mom’s decorating bonanza is what separates us from the family who adorns a single window with a strand of multi-colored lights, half of which blink (shudder). And I have to admit that without herniating my back, bickering over the placement of ornaments, or watching Mom nearly hang herself while trying to untangle tree lights, it hardly feels like Christmas at all. I fear the day that my mother will no longer be able to carry out the tradition of decorating our Northwestern Pole. I didn’t inherit her enthusiasm, but one day I will inherit the now 21 boxes, 8 garbage bags, and 7 free-floating wreaths. It is my burden to bear. But until that time comes, you’ll find me on the couch.