As I struggle to place floral picks into the solid frozen earth in the pot on my front door step, I huff on my freezing fingers to warm them and consider the mania of what I am doing. What I do EVERY year and always with a sense of panic that I am “behind”, that I will “miss the season”. It strikes me as a tad insane to feel a sense of anxiety over what amounts to some fake plants in a pot that I will only remove in thirty days from now. Because of course, I have imposed rules also. Christmas décor goes up December 1st, down December 31st and transitional décor goes in. What am I doing? Is this important? Is it worth it? DOES IT MATTER?
And then, as it always has, the voice that I attribute to my heart and soul rushes to the forefront of my mind before the last echoes of my doubt have been voiced. Because it makes me happy. That is as essentially true as it has been my whole life. From the time my memories have formed, they have included me creating, decorating or “beautifying my environment.”
This alone is not enough to quell my doubt and prove as justification for the Tin Soldier-like march I apply to Christmas decorating. My own happiness is not something I ever use to justify an action, though I should. No, when I listen a breath more – the bigger reason surfaces. The Thread.
My earliest memory of Christmas is not the mayhem of Christmas morning. The tornado of tissue paper that would engulf the living room. The belly-rot of cookies and sweets that made us minorly differential from Lord of the Flies mavericks armed with wrapping paper roll sabers. It is the tree.
Small and filled with the magnificent wonder only children can possess, I laid on the white felt skirt of the real Christmas tree, inhaling its sweet earthy scent and, looking up into the branches, was carried away by the twinkling of multi-coloured lights into an unearthly Christmas dimension.
Outside, the Manitoba winds would gust against the glass. The plummeting temperatures making everything brittle and tight. As if the whole world would shatter with one poke of your finger. But inside, Elvis Presley and Alabama reigned the stereo, the smell of hot cross buns baking permeated the air and the tree stood proudly laden with glowing lights, silver garland and ornaments of memories past.
The tree, that perfect snow globe of a memory, is the thread that I tease every Christmas season.
A pull and I can smell my mothers baking. The ritual of shortbread, butter tarts and sugar cookies that earmarked our every season. My brother and I making every excuse to get something from the deep-freeze to snag a fully-frozen-teeth-busting cookie.
My step-mother’s peanut brittle, that for me, was tantamount to a spiritual experience.
A tug and I can see our Christmas decorations unpacked each year. The proud Santa’s, the glorious standing angels, the garlands and wreaths – the sheer bounty of spirit and infusion of the season in our home. I can hear the sparkling bird call of the silver ornament from my grandmothers’ tree as I held it in my hand. See the passage of my own years reflected in the handmade ornaments at my mothers.
Further along that strand, and I am led to Christmas Eve’s past, gathered around a crackling story-book fire in the hearth, Grandpa on the Harmonica and us as a family singing merrily off-key.
The Christmas we finally burned the Santa tapers, because “you only live once”, the year tinsel was officially banned from the tree after an unfortunate experience with the cat, the year I received my most precious ornament – a gold and white unicorn.
All around me, over years, a blanket of memories made of the symbols of our Christmas celebrations.
The flowers, the tree, the baking, the advent calendar, the Christmas cards, the decorating, the, the, the…all threads in the sweater of a season I cherish amongst all else. As I weave them together this season, the story of my past, my daughter's dad's past, our families’ past comes together and is joined. The sentiment, love and nostalgia Christmas inevitably conjures is shared and marked on our hearts for another year. Our future is created in the rhythm of that weaving, in the attention to those details. In the knit of these threads is my daughter’s future memories. The string she will one day pull from to unravel the story of her childhood, her own first memories. As I stand on my front step with floral picks in hand, I smile widely, breathe in the crisp winter air and continue weaving.
Years ago, as I sat cuddling my sleeping baby while my arms fell asleep and the pressure in my bladder tested the tenuous restraint of my pelvic floor, I had a brutal and sudden realization. I hated my house. Confined within the four walls of my living room as I had been for nearly every nap (hers and mine), feed or fuss over the last few months, the resentment for my space was only nearly outpaced by my need for the bathroom.
The neutral palette which was soothing after a day at work was now bland and boring. The bookshelves and display cases were burdens of responsibility that flaunted dust bunnies only rivaled by the left-over toast crumbs on my tank top. It was all too much, all that stuff, and yet not enough at all for this new phase in my life. My life had changed and so had my needs and tastes for my home.
“We’ll do it when the kids are older” is a mantra I hear frequently when I encounter parents of any-aged children. Often the concern is investing in a new sofa or area rug only to have it sacrificed to the yogurt and apple sauce gods the next time your little angels turn Lord of The Flies. Sometimes I suspect, and fairly so, that overwhelmed, overtaxed and over-fill-in-the-blank parents just “can’t”. They can’t conjure the energy and attention needed whilst hearing “mommy” 2 567 times a day. Maybe they can’t face the uncertainty of confronting their space when they are already swallowing down multiple fears and worries due to tiny terrors who seem to do their level best to not live past their childhoods.
But you must. Why? Why would I make you decorate your home when the above arguments seem so inarguable? So very complete and credible?
Look at your lovely angels. Know that they will very likely mush guacamole into your area rug and get marker on your toss cushion and then decorate your home anyways. Because your thoughts, feelings, motivations - YOU - deserve it.
Years ago, while at what felt like a desperate career cross-roads, I took an on-line career test. The result said something to the effect of: "You need to be surrounded by beauty."