It’s not that I’m a Scrooge, exactly. I like Christmas as much as anybody does — the lights, the parties, the food, the chance to wear sparkly clothes with impunity. Presents? Santa Claus? Milk (punch) & cookies? More is more. Bring it on. But when it comes to decorating, I lean toward extreme laziness minimalism. The thought of wrestling with putting up the tree and finding unpacking the ornaments makes me want to take a nap. Color-coordinating hand towels with guest soaps, replacing everyday pillows and artwork with holiday-themed decor and creatively displaying Christmas cards in a Pinterest-worthy style are simply beyond me. Our struggles with our%^&*$@ front-door garland this year are well documented — does anybody have an industrial nail gun we can borrow? — and I’ve desperately clung to stuck with our gold mailbox bows now for eight years for fear of having to buy new ones out of loyalty to the young florist who made them. Look, I’ve done the basics. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, the presents are wrapped and the Chex mix ingredients are ready. What else do you need? Naturally, you can guess that this is NOT the way I was brought up. My mother, with help from my dad, is a top-level Christmas advocate who turns their house into a holiday fairyland. There are surprises and delights everywhere you look and she’s always coming up with something new. As I do with folks who excel at the mysterious skills of gardening & painting & knitting, I admire and appreciate my mom’s Christmas creations without any troubling thought that I really should attempt to duplicate them myself. Thanks, Mom!
Oh, I love the holidays — the visiting, the parties, the chance to get a closeup view of other people’s decorations. Luckily, folks don’t seem to mind when I whip out my camera, even though my husband warns the hosts, “You’d better be careful because this will turn up on her blog.” But the homeowners here had a couple of nights previously opened their doors to an annual fund-raising holiday home tour, so I figured they’d be okay with a little publicity. The thing is, this family has spent years — YEARS — renovating and restoring this wonderful cottage in Tupelo, Mississippi. Soon I want to show you some of their non-holiday work, but since Christmas is … wait, wait, don’t tell me … four days away, we’ll stick with the festive touches now. I love the fresh greenery and whimsical details mixed in with vintage pieces, such as these post-office boxes the husband bought from a going-out-of-business post office. He cleaned and shined them and built the wooden case for them with access to the backs as well as the fronts for one incredible storage unit. Amazing! And made festive with a Santa collection resting on the top. Everything in this house was bright and cheerful, the food was good, the company was fun, the wine never stopped and I even heard firsthand the story about a dad who delivered his baby in the car at the hospital because his wife unknowingly has a condition called precipitous labor, which means she gives birth within three hours of the first contraction. In this case, it was 20 minutes. I repeat, this brave woman who is my new hero gave birth in the front seat of her car in the hospital’s driveway a mere TWENTY MINUTES after she felt a contraction. That calls for another Christmas cookie — and sort of makes me glad I’m out of the birthing-babies business.
When you look at this snowperson ornament — which, by the way, did not make the Christmas-tree cut this year — do you see a) a well-loved symbol of sweet childhood memories or b) a maniacal crazy-eyed snowcreature that makes you very very nervous? I guess it depends on whether you believe you’re looking at a) mittens and a broom or b) hooves and an ax. There’s no denying the crazy eyes, though. And, truthfully, I’m sure “Frosty the Zombie Snowman” will be the Next Big Thing. (Note to self: Ask always-zombie-alert husband if zombie snowpeople would actually carry axes. Or wear holly in their hats.) Before you scoff, know that I am extremely sensitive to the possibilities of Evil Toylike Objects because of the Tree Toys. Would you like to hear the story? Pour some eggnog, settle down by the fire and I’ll tell you. See, when we lived in Alabama and my two now-mid-20s daughters were young, an elderly woman who lived down the street from us would celebrate the holidays by hanging stuffed animals and dolls from a tree in her front yard. With fishing line. Around their necks. People from surrounding states would drive over just to see this because nothing, obviously, says Christmas like a tree in a front yard with dozens of eerily silent teddy bears and Cabbage Patch Kids swaying in the breeze. The woman scoured yard sales and flea markets all year for her Tree Toy collection because, it was said, she wanted to do something “for the children.” However, my children — and every other child around as well as most adults — were traumatized every year and refused to drive, walk, run, bike, skate or otherwise go anywhere near that house during the holidays. Younger Daughter later admitted she’d had nightmares about the Tree Toys coming to life and it was a long and dark time before she could pick up a teddy bear without shuddering. The Toy Tree appeared for several consecutive years … until one year, the tree was empty. Rumor had it that the woman had given in to public pressure and decided to give up her decorating scheme. But it seemed as if her spirit was broken, because no sign of the holidays ever showed up in her yard again. No wreaths. No inflatable snow globes. No Santa Claus standing at the manager along with the shepherds and the Three Wise Men. The crowds abandoned our neighborhood and started driving over to the five-acre light extravaganza in the next county. Our street was (relatively) safe again, and all we have left are memories of the Tree Toys … and maybe, with Crazy-Eyed Snowperson here, the start of a new tradition.
You know, we almost always think of Christmas as a woman’s holiday, right? I mean, typically it’s the woman who shops and decorates and cooks and manages family logistics. It’s the woman of the house who remembers that Aunt Peggy likes chocolate-covered cherries and that we’ve sent the California cousins a balsam wreath three years in a row already. It’s the mom who gets everybody where they’re supposed to be on time, wearing the right clothes and bearing the appropriate gifts. And, let’s face it, motherhood pretty much has a starring role in the Christmas story. But let’s pause for a minute and celebrate the dads — those guys in the background who may grumble and grouse about all the holiday goings-on but who are alwrays always ALWAYS there when their family really needs them. Those of us who are lucky enough to have one or more of them with us this Christmas need to turn around RIGHT NOW and make sure they know how much we appreciate them. Go ahead. I’ll wait … … … … … There. Aren’t you glad you did that? Merry Christmas!