Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What Christmas Looks Like

Every year I spend a little time worrying that my narrow range of holiday decorating is somehow robbing my son of his childhood.  We've never had an Elf on the Shelf.  I don't do much with the mantle or spend days stringing lights on the bushes.  Some years, I completely forget to put the wreath on the door.  (Actually, I just realized that I've currently forgotten to put the wreath on the door.  Crap.  I should fix that...)  I've had the same little 6' pre-lit tree for most of his life.  I never use tinsel or popcorn strings.  I have more than a decade's worth of White House ornaments and I rarely display them.

The Christmas trees of my childhood were very different.  Dad always got a live tree...and then spent the weeks it was in the house worrying about whether or not it had enough water (or if it would spontaneously combust while we were out of the house).  Decorating the tree was a family event.  Dad hauled down box after box of decorations from the attic.  He'd fight through sorting out the tangled lights and getting them on the tree, while Mom carefully unwrapped each ornament.  My sister and I would take turns hanging a variety of ornaments -- Hallmark ornaments and glass ornaments and ornaments my Mom got as teaching gifts and craft projects from our schools.  We'd then take turns tossing tinsel at the branches until they were a fog of silver.  Finally, the special star topper was placed on the tallest branch and we'd all sit back while Dad hit the lights.  The tree was a complete cacophony of holiday cheer, and we loved every minute.

 Decorating at my house is a little different.  The tree goes up (and is properly fluffed and lighted) in probably 15 minutes.  Stringing the lights takes a few more minutes with minimal to no cursing (thanks to how I store my lights), and then we move on to the really good part.  We always wait til it's dark, then the Monkey and I turn on Christmas music (hot beverage optional) and we decorate.

Our main tree has two kinds of ornaments (gold balls and red balls) and a string of shiny gold garland that we wrap around it.  We put up a second little (2') tree that he can decorate as he chooses.  Historically, he's had a few special ornaments that he likes to put on the tree.  A homemade puzzle piece ornament with his picture on it....a spiderman ornament...a snowman.  This year, he instinctively reached for Spiderman and then stopped himself.   Once the snow lets up, we'll be questing for some appropriately swanky "more mature" ornaments for his little tree.

The little vignette with his tree is possibly my favorite this year.  The ribbon around his tree base was attached to a gift I got a few years ago.  The giant ornament-turned-globe was an impulse buy one year when I (made the mistake of?) took the Monkey to Target with me.  He wasn't leaving the store without it -- and even this year, it was the one ornament from "his pile" that he insisted we display.  I scored the tree topper in an ornament exchange at work.  The tall candlestick in the back corner was a wedding gift.  The Pottery Barn table was an early purchase after the Monkey's dad and I moved to DC, and the mirror was a centerpiece of the first house we bought in the area.  The Swedish glass candy dish supporting the ornament was a gift from my friend Andreas on his first visit almost 20 years ago.  And the small glass ornaments on the tree were a gift from my mother from her stash of holiday decorations.  I'm not even sure how old they are (but we treat them carefully, just in case).

Every piece of this little scene has a story, spanning decades, layered together as harmoniously as the winding road that has brought us to where we are in our lives.  They tell tales of love and change and growth and evolution.  They are memories and moments.  The Monkey will add his own layer this year and I have every intention of making the process something he'll remember:  his own story to tell someday.

A snowstorm hit the area this morning, so both work and school were called off.  I turned on the lights in the early morning snow-gloom and started a pot of coffee.  The Monkey came stumbling out of his room, all sleepy and warm, and crawled into my lap on the couch.  He chatted absently about the wonders of being out of school and snow and some thoughts he'd held on to since the night before.  Then he relaxed into the crook of my arm and stared at the little holiday scene in the corner of our living room.

"I love our tree," he said.  "It's so simple and beautiful."

I hugged him a little tighter.

In that moment, I realized that he didn't feel like he was missing out on anything.  Despite the barrage of Pinterest pictures and media onslaught and my own memories of "what Christmas looks like," my narrow, simplified approach isn't depriving him in the least.  His Christmas memories will be different from mine, but they'll be no less warm or wonderful. 

1 comment:

Jason said...

Sounds wonderful. I think that the details of the traditions around Christmas aren't really that important. It's the fact they exist at all that really makes an impact upon the younglings. They don't need to be elaborate at all.

We used to get a live Christmas tree every year at my father-in-law's town, but after he moved, we bought a big 'ol fake one from Costco. It's a minor thing, though -- the rest of the traditions, both big and small, are intact, and I'm positive that some great memories are being set into place.