December 15, 2013

'Tis The Season

We are ten days out from Christmas, and I couldn't be more excited! The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year, and why shouldn't it be? It's stuffed to the brim with family time, the best movies, and, most importantly, lots of food! (Aren't you glad we only have turkey and dressing twice a year? I think I would seriously hate it otherwise.) Plus, it's socially acceptable to listen to Christmas songs nonstop, even if you've secretly been singing your way through Michael Buble's Christmas album since July.

We really get into the Christmas spirit the day after Thanksgiving, when Mom orders us all off of the couch and into the attic, despite our turkey hangover, to begin shuttling the crates of Christmas decorations down the stairs and outside. There are ten billion lights to repair, light-up deer that somehow end up a tangled mess of moving legs, power cords, and antlers and never come downstairs in the same condition they went up, and snowflake lights to unravel. Let me be the first to say it: if you don't have high blood pressure, by the time you're done with those darn snowflakes, you will. I have never been angrier than when I'm sitting cross-legged in the middle of a sparkly, plastic, winter nightmare. And the worst part is the knowledge that once I get them untangled, they have to go up in the trees, where they will proceed to strip the limbs of any leaves, create a mudslide, and capture a few unlucky birds while catching on everything. EVERY. THING. I will be forever grateful to Daddy, who took it upon himself to cut most of the lower branches off of our trees, thereby freeing me from climbing duty. What he didn't realize when he cut them off, though, was that Mom is ingeniously inventive and infuriatingly stubborn, which is not a good combination, especially when she decides that we're going to tie weights to the end of fishing line and throw them into the trees to hang ornaments/lights/the odd mailman.

But that's just the beginning. My mother has always been a "go big or go home" kind of person, so we don't stop at lights. Oh, no. There are larger-than-life wooden cutouts of Santa Claus, toy soldiers, angels, gingerbread men, snowmen, candy canes, and Christmas trees to drag out of the shed and put up. It is a process that requires finesse, a large hammer, and lots of, "Shift it to the right just a tiny bit. No, the right! The right! Wait. My right, your left. Go left!" There are cellophane lollipops so bright they might have come out of the old Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. There are multicolored strands of lights that look like strawberries strung between said lollipops. And there are bows. Big, red or silver, sparkly, perfect bows everywhere. You would be amazed at how well a nice red bow sets off chili pepper lights.

When we finally get everything up outside-generally a week long process punctuated with arguing, screaming in terror, whacking trees/bushes with sticks, running from errant weights, batting over-sized ornaments across the yard in an attempt to loose a snowflake light, and fits of hopeless despair when it becomes apparent that the string of lights is in fact not working-it's time for the trees. Yep, trees. As in plural. They must be the perfect shape, size, and shade of green, grown in the wild and nurtured by the angels. They must smell like sunshine and happiness and Christmas, and when it's time to shed their bristles, they must do so with unmatched enthusiasm. If the floor around them isn't solidly green by the time they're gone, then the trees are doing something wrong. It takes at least an hour to pick the perfect trees, and Beau, Braeden, and I usually follow Mom around and pretend to really study every tree she thinks she might like. Finally, once she picks out the two she wants, it's time for the bartering. Like I said before, she's very hardheaded, and those poor salespeople don't stand a chance once she makes up her mind that she's going to get two trees without paying full price for either. Luckily, this year went smoothly, and we had the trees trimmed and loaded before anyone dissolved into tears. The Christmas tree sellers watched us leave in relief. Their job is done. Ours is just beginning.

Once we get the trees home, they've got to soak in a bucket of water for a minimum of 24 hours, which is Dad's tactful way of saying, "I don't want to deal with them right now." After we get them in the stands, we go back up to the attic to find the boxes of ornaments. By then, we're usually tired of the whole decorating mess and want to watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation for the sixth time that day. But life isn't easy, and so we put up the lights and the ornaments. All the ornaments, even the paper angels we made 15 years ago that are falling apart and just begging for rest. It doesn't matter if one flimsy branch of that tree has five ornaments on it. They're all going up. Maybe some families manage to do this and look like the families on TV, but we don't. If someone isn't severely agitated by the end of the experience, we just take it all down and start again, with Elvis singing in the background and Beau telling us for the millionth time how much she hates Christmas music. At this point in time, even my adoration of it is wearing thin. There are only so many ways Last Christmas can be sung, you'd think, but the radio seems to have an unlimited supply that they play every ten minutes. This year, to save me from tears, just stop playing it for a day. One day. Is that too much to ask?

Taking a break from the decorating, we go to my grandparents' house to pick oranges. They've got a small orchard in their yard, with orange, lemon, and kumquat trees, all of which need to be picked in time to bag them up in pretty little bags and give them away as Christmas presents. We have a good time together, laughing when someone's hair gets caught in a limb or Braeden gets pelted by an out of control citrus fruit, avoiding the thorns, trying to eat oranges without making too much of a mess, and insisting that taking pictures is not helping (cough, cough Mom). Once we've collected our treasure and bandaged our wounds, we load up on chicken and dumplings. It's a simple, meaningful experience that slows the holiday season down. It's also one of my favorite parts of this time of the year.

It's always fun to look back on Christmases past and see how much has changed. I used to make my Christmas lists in July, and they would be ten pages long and filled with requests of clothes for my baby dolls, a few hundred books, and the odd harmonica or telescope. I would prepare them carefully and put them in a letter addressed to Santa Claus, which Daddy would take to work and send off to the North Pole in time for Santa to handle before Christmas. I would be on my best behavior, because every time I got in trouble, something got crossed off. I must have gotten in trouble quite a bit, because I never did get those three dozen or so American Girl outfits. I would tear into the living room on Christmas morning and make a grand mess of the presents which were wrapped so neatly beneath the tree. Wrapping paper was everywhere. It was mayhem. Nowadays, I like it quieter and simpler. Don't get me wrong, I like presents. Who doesn't? No matter how old you are, it's impossible not to feel a thrill of excitement when you're handed a box that could contain anything. But in the middle of all that wrapping paper flying everywhere and the shouts of excitement as someone opens the present they've been dying to get, it's nice to sit back and see the unabashed excitement on Braeden's face, or the way Mom smiles when she realizes that we were in fact listening the times she mentioned wanting something. A lot of people have said a lot about the Christmas season, about the feeling that you get when you look around and see your loved ones in their pajamas, remembering how it felt to be 6 or 7 on Christmas morning, about the excitement and anticipation that builds and builds the closer December 25th gets, and they've said it more eloquently that I could ever hope to. But in my 18 years, I've found that the Christmas season is about more than buying those boots I wanted, or getting a new series of books on sale. It's not about red velvet cake or a perfect turkey or how many times we can watch Christmas Vacation in a single day (the answer is quite a lot, if you're determined and really believe in yourself.) It's not about the decorations or the Christmas music that nobody can agree on. It's not about snow-or a lack thereof-or reminding ourselves of all the things we wish we had. The Christmas season is about realizing that we've already got everything we could ever wish for. And I think that's beautiful. That's why Christmas is my favorite holiday.

It is the most wonderful time of the year, after all.

So from our family to yours, have a very merry Christmas season. Remember that family is the greatest gift we could ever receive, and love is the freest gift we could ever give. Treasure the things you can't get on Black Friday more than the things you did get. And never, ever forget that it is perfectly acceptable to line your windows with red, orange, and yellow chili pepper lights that you bought when your mother said, "I don't care, just get more lights!" Feliz Navidad, right?

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