Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Undecorated Truth

If there is one thing I really, really hate doing after the holidays it's taking down all the decorations.  It's not just the hassle of packing away everything - taking down the outside lights, the Christmas tree, the ornaments, the Santa figure who is dressed in gold and ready to golf (I got that one at a 75% off sale the day after Christmas) and putting it all in the attic.   It's that the holiday season is really, really over.   No more anticipation of presents or buying things to make everyone else happy, no more pressure (okay - so why am I missing Christmas, again?).   I guess when I was a kid at Christmas time, anything was possible, things were sparkly, and the time leading up to December 25th was so much fun.  The school parties, the car rides to see Christmas lights, and the Sears Roebuck Toy catalog where a child's fantasies could come true.  You had a only few presents to buy as a kid  and the weight of Christmas was not on your shoulders - it was on your parents.   Putting up decorations was fun and seeing Christmas lights (back then it was the big bulb kind not the little twinkly lights kind so they were extra bright) made me feel really secure.  I remember being able to see the Christmas lights outside my bedroom window and falling asleep happily because I was sure that nothing bad could happen as long as they were up.   When Christmas was over, I would close the shutters on my windows because the lights were gone and now my eight year old brain could conceive of robbers claiming through my windows - somehow the glow of the holiday lights or the possible burns they might receive from the bulbs kept them away.    

I guess the thing that strikes me most as I put those decorations away that get used from year to year is how different things will be the next time I get them out.   Last year when I put them away, I was still unemployed with no real job prospects on the horizon.   I had only been out of work for two months so my spirits were still pretty high.   I wondered then as I wrapped up the angels in newspaper what my life would be like in late November when all of it would go up again.   Would I be working?   What would I be doing?   This year I am lucky enough to have a great job that I enjoy going to rather then a job that used to give me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because my ex-boss made me feel like nothing I did was good enough.   What difference two Christmas seasons can make!

There were the milestone years when I had put away the ornaments in January 1995 when Max and I had been married for three years and I found out that I was pregnant.  I knew that I would have a baby to buy presents for by the next Christmas.   I remember how stressed everyone was during Christmas 1999 wondering if the Y2K would bring down everything we knew  in just a week.   When New Year's 2000 was rung in with barely an interruption, I was able to put the decorations away knowing that the world as we knew would not descend into the chaos that you see on a show like Revolution.  I knew that Max and I would try for another baby, but had no idea if that infant would be on the way in November 2000 when everything would go back up again.   December 2000 brought with it a bouncy baby who was three weeks old when Christmas arrived that year. 

I guess for many people, Christmas more than any other holiday brings about those milestone moments.  It's different than an anniversary or birthday because all those are celebrated at different times of year - it's not a  mass experience.  It still means so much to you personally but not everyone in the world is taking part in it.   For better or for worse, Christmas comes on the same day every year - it never varies and that deadline is always there.  You have the same amount of time to get everything done that everyone else does and how you deal with that holiday pressure is up to you.   You can be the sobbing mass on the floor certain that you will never get your projects done in time (okay, so maybe that's just me) or the person who has it together and all their presents wrapped and ready by the first week of Advent or those that go shopping the a day or two before Christmas and still get it all done (for the record, both those types of people are irritating!)  

But there are the good things too.   There's the ornaments that your children make in school, or an art class or Sunday School that will forever be part of your decorations.  Those imperfect little ornaments with the paint splashing inelegantly all over the place because their little hands or minds were not able to stay within the lines.   You remember their faces as they put their latest creation on the tree - facing out for everyone to see.   It was messy, it was uneven, it was theirs and it was beautiful.   There's baking with your kids and trying to keep their fingers out of the cookie dough.  The smell of banana nut bread which was the same as when you were a kid because you're using the same childhood recipes that your mother used to.    You sit back and think - "Okay, for all the hustle and bustle - this right here is the good stuff."   

What makes Christmas more special then any other time of year is that the world is awash in red, green, blue, silver and gold.  The world is brighter and shinier.   I can also tell you as a person who has worked in non-profits for over 20 years, December brings in a ton of donations both cash and in-kind.   People want to carry that holiday feeling forward and help others.   It's not that they aren't generous at any other time of year, it's just that at Christmas you feel for those that don't have what they need and in your own little way you try to help even if it's donating $20 worth of board games to a toy drive because that's all you can do.  

Then the bleakness of January sets in.    Yes, it's a New Year, full of promise but all the pretty lights are gone and you're left with the starkness of your resolutions.  It's generally cold, overcast and unless you live in a warm climate, not very sunny - wearing shorts is a non-issue.   The lacy tapestry of barren trees paints the sky - their limbs naked for months before spring brings back their light green leaves.   So you're left in a bit of a funk.   Valentine's Day is near, but it's just not as much fun as Christmas.   The momentum of the Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year's train comes to a dead stop - three months of holidays gone for another year.   It just goes by too fast. 

Last night, exactly 18 days after Christmas, Amber and I took a drive from our house all the way to Downtown Duluth which is about 2.5 miles.  Our lights were still on as one of the last die-hards in the neighborhood and we wanted to see who else were still holding onto the holidays or were too lazy to take their decorations down.   We found just four homes in those miles rather than the dozens that had lined the streets in the weeks leading up Christmas.   By next week, I imagine those three other houses will be out - tonight our house is back to normal.  The mantel has the family photos back up and the burgundy and gold have been replaced by blue, yellow and white.  The cats are upset that the tree is not a permanent fixture.   The decorations are down and things look ordinary again.  

I guess this stuff hits me harder now because eleven years ago, my parents came up after Christmas to visit after staying with my sister Kathy.  It seemed like any other visit.  I was starting a new job and was glad to spend New Year's Eve with them, to go out to lunch and ring in 2002 with my husband, six year old daughter and my year old baby.   The lights were up, my parents were visiting and absolutely no one could climb through the windows and try to rob the place (we lived in a third floor apartment so that robber would have had a very long reach).   They left to go back to Miami and as per tradition, the decorations would stay up until after January 6th which was my father's birthday and the Feast of the Three Kings.   Then on January 7th, we got the call that my father had a heart attack and had died suddenly.    I remember going to the airport and passing those houses with decorations still up on the way and crying.   I remember the blur of those days afterwards, being with my brothers and sisters together in the same place for the first time in years and crying.   I remember flying back and seeing still more of the diehards with their outside lights still up and crying.   The worst part was coming home and taking down our decorations because when they went up, my father was still alive.   Now, I had to take them down.  The world seemed very dim, gray and sad.   There would be no bright bulbs to make it better.      

I always feel so sad when the lights have to come down.  I seem to relive that every year now which is why I dread doing it so much.  This year though, I didn't cry as hard and I did not seem as heartbroken.  Maybe it's because life goes on, and that little infant from 2002 is 12 years old and makes me laugh everyday.  That six year old little girl is a teenager who is smarter than she gives herself credit for.  My husband is kind, brilliant and uses his strong arms to give me hugs when I need them.  Right now, life is good.   So who knows what the next 12 months will bring.   I know I will always miss my dad - that's a given.   But maybe it's finally getting easier to let go - to miss my dad but not feel destroyed at the the loss.   The ornaments will come out next year with all their imperfections and those stupid animated deer will probably not work the way they are supposed to.   It's those rituals in life that keeps us going, living and remembering those we loved and have lost and holding those we have closer then ever.   For whatever it's worth, that's my undecorated truth.  Sometimes it's great and sometimes it hurts - but now,  I'm finally okay with that.  


No comments:

Post a Comment