when we first started out, i could get the tree up, the lights on, the Santas distributed in the time it took for my daughter to take her afternoon nap. she would wake, coming down the stairs to a fairyland of lights and glitter, which captivated her for a good while. by middle school, though, she used to move my Santa collection around the house because apparently the places i'd put them didn't suit. when she was in high school, i remember an outburst because she came home from school and i had not put the finishing touches on the banister garland. i had no idea how important it was for her to come home to this holiday fairyland, the house filled with mementos of her childhood and the treasured days we had created for her. to her, a house decorated must have meant a house happy, and that particular Christmas it was not.
she left for college, and somehow i recovered from whatever kept me from the spirit that year. and though i found the fairy dust again, i can tell it's slower each year in the sprinkling. (tinker bell is getting old.) as my children become adults, the presents become fewer and more intentional, and i leave whole boxes of decorations unwrapped, their purpose no longer as important to me as it once was.
as i write this, my mantle is bare and every single present (which are few) aren't wrapped, though today i received my first present in the mail. i have about a dozen boxes to unpack — the nativity, my collection of Christmas trees, the large Santas that sit table-top. the dining room table serves as my staging area, and so there is no place to entertain, should anyone decide to visit. plus, no Christmas food!
everybody rushes me, but i keep reminding myself that it is ONLY DECEMBER 9th! my own parents never decorated a tree or filled the house with greenery until at least the 15th, back in the day. otherwise it would die, because it was fresh from the yard (and not from Wal-Mart.)
back in the day. my father took my sister and me to Rocky Mount, a full 30 miles away, to shop for my mother in a mall with a magic Christmas tree, its lights blinking to the sound of organ music. i am certain we never shopped in November for what could easily be bought in December, and AFTER the 10th, thank you very much. who needed to shop before then? these days if you want it you had better have thought about it in October, for it will be gone by early November. it seems as if Advent, that time of preparing and anticipating has been moved to just after Halloween.
but my anger about that is not the point of this story.
it's this: when you do unpack your Christmas, whether it's the day after Thanksgiving or the day before Christmas Eve, what i forget about the sometimes laborious process of pulling it all out, is that buried among the ornaments are hidden treasures, those trinkets that by tradition and story provide a surprise.
this morning before the rush to work, i finished the last of the tree, taking in the tiny ornaments my mother gave us the very first Christmas we were married. and then i took inventory, of all the ornaments hanging and where they had come from through the years.
Hawaiian ornaments from my sister who had visited there in her early marriage. an origami star given to me by a friend who died unexpectedly a couple of years ago, the year after she gave it to me. miss piggy (from my sister, too — do you think that was a not-so-subtle message?). the corn husk nativity and Moravian stars we found for our first and only Christmas in Winston-Salem.
among my favorites is a bird's nest given to me by my Peace College suite mate and daily walking friend, so long ago she likely doesn't remember it. a nest with a tiny egg, a small nuthatch hand painted on its shell. when she gave it to me, she said this was something her mother had always kept in her own tree. because legend held that choosing a Christmas tree where a bird had nested would bode well to the family for that year.
every year i tuck the nest carefully in the branches of the tree to be sure it won't fall. and i marvel at the unknown artist who could paint something so small — no larger than a penny — yet so detailed.
a few minutes ago, my niece called to FaceTime, her not-yet-two-year-old showing me her tree, her snow globes, how she sits in her favorite chair right in front of the tree and kicks it softly, to see the branches glisten with the twinkling lights. every morning when she wakes, her mother says, she marvels that the tree still stands there in her living room, filled with Santas she can touch.
i turned the camera around so she could see my tree, showing her every Santa i could find. her eyes widened as she said: ho ho ho!, with each one. then i showed her my little bird's nest, and she said 'tweet.'
and there are so many days yet to give.
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