it was hard to get into the christmas spirit this year, and i can't quite put my finger on it. whether it was the bipolar ohio weather (freezing rain monday, 70 degrees saturday), the lack of most of my immediate family in my immediate area, the constant doom-and-gloom news of the economy, or the fact that last year was hard to top - you know, having a kid and all.
or i'm just getting older.
we de-christmased the house this weekend - much to my mother's chagrin (she wasn't even HERE) but to our delight. the house looked normal again. christmas is my mother's absolute favorite holiday. for better or worse, it was a time when the family actually seemed to like each other. dad would be forced to bring out the artificial tree which i think was made with the first prototype of plastic. this thing was so old i think it predated fire retardants. it had like 8 layers, and each layer had to fit in just right. the directions were long gone, the box more duct tape than cardboard. dad (genius) had each layer labeled with a different color of electrical tape so we knew the lengths of the branches. then the fluffing.
then those friggin' lights.
i hate putting lights on a christmas tree. i'm one of those people that needs symmetry in my life. the right side has to look just like the left side. i'm also not a big fan of multicolored lights. but mom is, so multi it was. wrapping those stupid lights around and around - they'd blink one minute, stay on the next. some strands worked when we tested and as soon as they were perfect on the tree, they'd stop. listen to the "12 pains of christmas" and listen to the 2nd day of christmas. that was us.
and the ornaments...
my grandmother started each of the grandkids on one or more of the Hallmark collections of ornaments. because i'm the only girl, i got the dollhouse collection - which coincidentally is the only collection they haven't discontinued. i currently have over 25 dollhouse ornaments, each with a box and protection (e.g., bubble wrap, formed plastic, or newspaper from 1989) including a few anniversary ones. a girlie-girl i am not. but each of these ornaments has to be removed from the box and placed strategically on the tree. then there's the sports collection (boys), star wars (brandon), and winnie-the-pooh books (me again). and all these ornaments fit snuggly into a christmas turkey box. yes, the old grumman christmas turkey box. it's kind of like a tetris game of sorts - only one way all these boxes will fit. and when you get that year's ornaments, only in this turkey box they will go. hilarity ensues, four letter words mashed together, but all the ornament boxes do indeed fit, into this poor turkey box. never mind that grumman gave out some pretty large turkeys in their day.
cue the tinsel.
mom didn't do garland. and until i moved out and saw other people's christmas trees knew that people put ribbon on their trees. mom did tinsel. those little silver strands of evil. and it had to go on strand by strand. the poor dog would at least get one strand and glittery poop would be a great byproduct. and no one else could do the tinsel - just mom. but we had this really weird carpeting that made it entirely too much work to pick up the tinsel that fell so we'd have to vaccuum it. but the vaccuum was cheap. so the tinsel would just get tangled in the head of the vaccuum.
i hate tinsel. it's evil. it will never be on my tree. ever.
for a time, i'm not sure when it started but i think i was in college, we started getting a real tree. i think the previous artificial one finally gave up the ghost. or dad heaved it to the curb with a 6-pack begging the garbage men to take it from his sight and home. lights and tinsel and gobs of collectible ornaments are no easier on a real tree. but it sure smells nice - right up until the dog drinks all the water out of the bowl and the tree dies which means you have to vaccuum every single day before you step on all the pointy needles it sheds on your new carpet.
two years ago we, eric and i, decided to get our own artificial pre-lit tree. some day i'll document that story, both the adult version and made-for-radio version. after 3 trees, 2 stores, and many a meltdown later, we have a beautfiul tree. but i just couldn't get excited about the tree this year. it gives off a beautiful light in our dimly lit living room, the tree skirt is beautiful, but it just was ok. nothing spectacular.
we've tried to start our own christmas traditions. we do the requisite every-other-year between the in-laws. but christmas morning takes place the whole family (mom, dad, doggies, jack) in the bed together, just quiet and enjoying the moment before the holiday and presents begin. each night before we went to bed, i would point out an ornament to jack and tell its story (if i knew it). i'm warming to the idea of different wrapping paper prints for each present. i even had turkey this christmas.
i'm beginning to realize christmas is truly for the young. it's for those that don't have a clue how much stuff costs, no matter how much you budget. it's for people who don't want to calcute how many presents you can get out of that tube of wrapping paper you paid $4.99 for and will just be put in the trash. (really, we just buy stuff to throw out now? how is THAT environmentally or budget friendly?) it's for people who don't have to worry about shopping and cooking and cleaning all after 40 hours of work.
this year brought so many things so much more important than material things. i would have traded all the giftcards in the world for just one night with my husband and child to just BE together without advance planning. i would have given up all the little presents, lotions, candy, electronics, anything wrapped with ribbons or bows to have gotten 1 Mario Night with my brothers. amidst all the news of people losing their jobs, their homes, their minds in this economy, i felt nothing but guilt spending what i had. even after i plunked the $2K into my car at the dealer for the radiator, plugs, wires, water pump, thermostat, and timing belt (why didn't they wrap THAT?).
so what have i learned this christmas? i'm getting older, i'm enjoying the slower things this holiday, the material stuff doesn't matter any where near as much as family, and next year, with whatever blessings and challenges it brings, will be different, fun, and welcome.