At my house growing up, the holidays were a series of traditions and rituals and annual celebrations, all wrapped up in an explosion of cooking, planning and decorating. My mother's elaborate holiday decor was a weekslong process, that we started before Thanksgiving and finished a week or two before Christmas, hauling boxes and boxes of garlands and baubles and Christmas statuettes and a full nativity scene and reindeer wearing wreaths and the mistletoe and handmade beaded ornaments from the basement and strewing them about the house (in a very particular order, of course). The drawn-out timeframe suited me perfectly; it made Christmas almost six weeks long.
Credit Image: Chris_J on Flickr
When I had moved out on my own, I lost the six weeks of Christmas, but still felt the same rich effect when I arrived at my parents' house to seeing all the greenery and the lights and the ribbons and the ornaments: whisper-thin clear glass balls and teardrops hung from the dining room chandelier; pine garlands enriched with ripe red apples (improbably beautiful fakes) wrapped around the stairway banister; three miniature Christmas trees made with jewel-tone glass balls the size of grapes on the mantel that my mother had made. It was comfort, it was glorious, it was home.
Since my parents passed away a few years ago, I've felt this deep, internal pressure to decorate the way they did -— and not least because when my brothers and I were packing up my parents’ house to be shipped off to auction, I couldn’t bear to part with many of the decorations, with their decades of memories attached. Even though we knew there was a lot of décor to sort through, we were still somewhat speechless once it was all down from the attic. My father had saved the silver balls we used on the tree that he had replaced once, twice, maybe even three times over -— the charming ‘50s-era packaging almost made them worth keeping, but the balls inside were well past their prime. Those easily went into the dumpster, but the procession of Santas (one for practically every room in the house) and reindeer (both indoors and out) and the mistletoe ball and golden garland with miniature pears and boxes and boxes of ornaments (especially because at one point my parents added a second tree in the house) kept being handed down from above, one box after another and another.
Opening all those boxes was like Christmas in reverse: I relived holidays from the past, Polaroid pictures in mind of me in different pajamas and robes for each decade. It was hard not to fall in love. When we finished sorting all the piles into Trash, Sell, Save my pile of Save was simply too big to keep.
I combed through and winnowed down, and packed up what I’d decided to take. Then when Christmas rolled around the next year, I honored my parents by unfurling as much as I could, making a fine tree and creating my own displays with many of my mother’s goods.
But this year, I won't. Even though, in theory, I have twice as much space, having rented a weekend house so my son and I can occasionally stretch our limbs past the narrow range of our New York City apartment.
I had a moment of imagining decorating the weekend house, with its big windows, lovely fireplace, open kitchen with a perfect place to hang the delicate, transparent orbs that used to hang from my parents’ chandelier for eighteen, nineteen, twenty years. I was torn in thinking about where the tree should go: apartment or home? Would we spend Christmas here or there? Maybe, I thought, I should go ahead and get two ...
But then I pulled myself up to a stop. I decided that this year I am going to do more with less: I am going to focus on really living the holiday, those precious days off, and not fill the weeks before with to-do lists.
No bowls of Christmas balls, no mantelpiece décor, no lights wrapped around the windows. I won’t hang the three birch wreaths or find a place for the gossamer-haired angel. I will still have a tree -— my son deserves some proper pomp and circumstance -— but I will buy a smaller tree instead of a nine-foot giant, and decorate it less, so I can do it up in one day instead of two.
I know this is the right move. Because the greatest gift I could give my son -— and myself -— this time of year is a mother who is present, engaged, available, and yes, still delighted by all that the holiday season brings. This year I’m going to live the holidays in my heart, and not out in all the glory of the glittering everything else.
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