The 12 Ways of Christmas: The decorating

[Part 2]

My mom had a couple of great friends who went nuts every year with Christmas decorations in their house.

Auntie Cel and Auntie Mary had so much stuff, they had to start decorating the day after Halloween to get it all up in time for Christmas. Every room had a different theme; some rooms had more than one. There were the religious icons, the secular icons, nativities, santas and elves, snowmen and snowladies, stars, snowflakes, trees, holly, wreaths, lights, lights, and lights.

They had a kiln in their basement, and among other things they made ceramic houses for a Christmas village that they expanded every year. It was under their tree and ran across the living room floor. There was an extension on their kitchen countertop. A ceramic metropolis sprawled across table tops, on the fireplace hearth, to their finished basement. It was a megalopolis of cottages and churches and skating pond mirrors.

My mom and I were so impressed that we decided to import some of that magic into our house. So Cel and Mary began a tradition of giving my mom a house every year for Christmas so she could build her own village. We decided to place it under the living room tree.

This was the “nice” tree, in contrast with the family room tree, where the present went.

The branches were twists of metal and long, dark-green plastic needles, the trunk straight as an arrow. Any pretense of reality ended there. Assembled, after some shaping, it was a near-perfect cone. All the lights were golden. The garland was heavy and radiant. All the ornaments were red, round glass globes, though some had faded to pink through the years. (Those ones we stuck in back.) I was mainly impressed with the way the made my nose look huge and rest of my face tiny.

When I was little, I thought the nice tree was boring and colorless. But as I grew older, it had more appeal for me. I took more pride in its austerity, its economy, its precision, its uniformity, its simplicity.

Our ceramic village challenged that aesthetic, growing each year by a church, a cottage, a barn, a schoolhouse. And soon the Christmas bonanza took over the rest of the house.

Inspired by Cel and Mary, we twisted garland and lights together and rimmed the mirrors in both bathrooms. We stapled garland and lights along the underside of the kitchen cabinets and hung bells and random leftover ornaments from the staples. We draped lights in the entry between the family room and the kitchen, between the foyer and the living room.

We strung lights in every window in the house with suction-cup hooks. We stuck plastic clings to every window and mirror. We covered the coffee table and the end tables and the TV set with cotton and glitter, and we arranged ceramic figurines and candlesticks in little scenes.

My dad had dominion over the trees and shrubs and hedges outside, and the lights that ran along the edge of the roof. His tools were hooks, a broken spade handle, and yards and yards of black electrical tape. My mom and I owned the interior. Our weapons were scotch tape and a staple gun.

In later years, those lights came equipped with MIDI Christmas carols, and the lights blinked along with every note. It was a delight and a monstrosity. Then, more was better. And less didn’t bear thinking about.  Wherever we could fit a plastic, backlit church or a candle holder made out of pinecones or a snowman in a sleigh, we’d get it in there. And my mom and I would stand back and admire the blinking chaos.


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