Christmas Decorations and the Scourge of Being Merry

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Every year, I promise myself that I will not succumb to the competition that is Christmas hall decking.  And every year,  I find myself guilted into upping the ante with another addition, or five, to the Christmas decor stable.  I try to be good, but once I spy the first twinkling light on an otherwise nondescript shrub outside an otherwise uneventful house that is suddenly transformed into a winter vision of wonder, my resolve is dissolved and I become a fiend for the red and green stuff.

This year, I began my enslavement to the chore of being festive just hours after the Thanksgiving bell tolled. Compelled to participate in the madness that is “Black Friday”, I meandered through the likes of “Bed, Bath, and Beyond” and “Joann Fabrics”, looking for nothing in particular. But with a promise of 70% off on ribbon, and text messages teeming with links to coupons of all sorts, who could refuse?  Six rolls of ribbon later (soon to join the long time residents of the 3 boxes of holiday ribbon amassed previously), a pang of “Buyer’s Remorse” gripped me and I suddenly regretted my purchase. Heck, it’s only ribbon, I lamented internally. Yet, the purchase symbolized the cultural conundrum that is Christmas. Can it be really be Christmas without the Christmas schmutz?

It was still Thanksgiving weekend when the need to deck the halls became acute. An audible moan arose from my husband’s gut as I announced that it was time to put up the tree. Yes, put up the tree – the one that is housed in the box in our basement. Prelit, modular, narrow, short by Christmas tree standards at 6 feet, the Cahalane Christmas tree is a Lowe’s special. It’s important to note that our family didn’t always have a “fake” tree. God forbid! In the early days of the Medford Cahalanes, we wouldn’t have dared an imitation. Ensconced in a neighborhood where “go big, or don’t bother going to Mahoney’s” was a mantra, you overbought.  Your ceilings were 6 1/2 feet? – go for the 7 footer and then realize it’s too tall, forcing the executive decision – chop from the top, or the bottom.  Who knew that, once you unleashed the soon to be blazing Yule from its protective transport wrapping, half of your living room would become unnavigable? The annual dilemma of visual tree measurement was real and driven by the need for the “perfect tree”, the one that you couldn’t wait to get out of your house by January 1.

The year that broke the back of our quest of the perfect real tree came at the hands of our children, who were teenagers at the time. With drama club and sports schedules to accommodate, the opportunities were few to gather the flock (we were a family of 4…) for the annual trek to the tree lot. We scheduled a time agreeable to all yet, when the hour arrived, there were complaints of the weather being too cold and other manufactured obligations, limiting our offspring’s availability. With the window of opportunity thrust open wide, we jumped into the car like hormone-crazed teens running from an overbearing parent and fled to a nearby Bradlees’ (who remembers?).  As gratifying as any visit to Mahoney’s, there stood the “perfect tree” – 6 feet of green polyvinyl chloride, promising to bring years of Yuletide joy to our home, all for the meager price of $99, plus tax. As we slipped the parcel into our 1992 Oldsmobile Cutlass wagon, a sense of accomplishment and freedom washed over us. Arriving in the driveway, we beckoned the children, who miraculously arrived home despite their other commitments, to come and help with the “tree”.  I will never forget the moment when realization overtook our daughter as she exclaimed, “YOU DIDN’T!” As a parent, I momentarily felt a little guilty – and moments later, weirdly powerful! And so began the era of the Cahalane Fake Tree.

Many years have passed after the initial shock of the fake tree infiltration but the work of decorating seems interminable. Weeks in the making, the chore refuses to be finished. Thematic collections of snow and gingerbread men and women call to me from their chilly cellar coffins, begging to be sprung. And I succumb. Furniture must be relocated, and day to day decorations are tucked away for three weeks, replaced by the “Christmas schmutz”. It’s a lot of work, and I swear, the supply of Christmas accoutrements begets itself. Entire boxes are overlooked from year to year, suddenly to be discovered and needing a space for display. But no space exists. The house is full, my brain is full, and the fun of it is over.

I imagine a day when Christmas is a table top tree in my tiny assisted living apartment and I will wax nostalgic for my days of decking the halls, and the kitchen, and the dining room… Until then, I will continue the dance of relocation, decoration, and restoration. And I truly wonder if it would still be Christmas without the “schmutz”.  My guess is, after the initial shock, Christmas will be Christmas, for the right reasons, and the time that we spend together, surrounded by our family and friends, will help us to understand that love is truly the best decoration of all.

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