Once again I find the Christmas spirit swelling up inside of me. It’s early November, but that doesn’t matter. Christmas has had its hold on me for a long time.
When the Thanksgiving meal had been finished, and I lay in the living room amongst other drowsy relatives sleepily watching football, I knew, that at that moment it had started. The Christmas season had officially started. From then on, it would be a whirlwind of activity right up to the start of School on January 2nd.
One week after Thanksgiving, my Dad would start complaining about how we ran out of turkey too fast, and that for Christmas we needed a bigger bird. Then we would go and get a Christmas tree. Now, you have to understand that not just any old tree would do, it had to meet some sizable requirements. My childhood home had a vaulted ceiling with near 18ft of clearance. So as my sisters and I walked around the Christmas tree lot holding up trees. Dad would be making comments like “You’re about five and half feet tall, so that tree must be about 10ft” and my mom would be making comments about how we should be getting a smaller tree.
I always knew it when I found the right one. I had this feeling, it’s hard to explain but when you pull up a tree, and you can feel the weight of it and from where you are standing you can’t see the top, but when you feel intimidated by a tree, well, that’s how you knew it was the right one. Later we would be heading home with a tightly bound and subdued tree in the back of our blue Chevy pick-up.
Making sure you have a good ladder is essential for Christmas. I don’t think I used the ladder but maybe twice a year, but during the Christmas season I must have been up and down that thing dozens of times. The first work would be getting all the decorations out of the attic. Now, Christmas was not just a tree, and a few ornaments, and some lights outside, no it was more like a museum completely changing its exhibits. Everything movable was replaced with a Christmas alternate; fancy plates, pictures, knickknacks, and candles.
So after having carried over twenty, old, half torn, dusty, boxes out of the attic, the decorating began. We would decorate for over a week, slowly transforming our house into a Christmas wonderland. This is the part I enjoyed the most. I can clearly remember weekends spent with the Christmas music playing while we decorated the house. Gone was our boring house, and now we lived in Christmas.
Now, that tree I mentioned, the big one that intimidated me, I would soon get to know very closely. Lugging that beast of a tree into the living room required furniture being moved, and the help of the entire family to manage the doors opening and closing so Dad’s temper stayed in a nice even place. Soon the tree would be in it’s stand, and everyone would be exited. This was just the beginning however. Dad would crawl under the tree, strap it down to the stand, tighten it up, and I would hold it. I had the longest arms of anyone, and so as I held that rough barked tree in my hand, playing with the sap, and enjoying the fragrance, Dad would holler to me, “Is it straight?” Of course to which I would reply, “I think” this didn’t help to convince him, and he would crawl out to see for himself, and ask my Mom to give her opinion as well. By this time my arm would be starting to hurt, and then my Dad would say “Let go and see what happens.” This was the part I feared the most, because the tree almost never stood up. I would let go and it would slowly start to fall over.
Eventually, after a few heated moments of frustration the tree would be standing, and then Dad would notice that there’s a huge hole in the tree, and ask why we didn’t see this when we bought it. After spinning the tree around and completely destroying my shoulder muscles we would finally be done.
None of the strain, and stress of these little events was enough to dampen our spirits however. Every day as Christmas grew closer and closer I would continue to feel a deep sense of Joy and fondness for that time of year. The only thing that ever really closed the damper on my holiday fire was the homework I had to finish on Sunday nights. If only vacation would start earlier.
Now that the tree was standing, that dark green symbol of Christmas was just waiting to be decorated. Of those twenty boxes we pulled out of the attic, about five of them were just for tree decorations. Dad would dig out the box with all the lights in it. I always remember Dad saying that it should be easy to sort out the lights this year because we labeled them last year. Problem was, we never could really remember what the heck our labels meant from the year before. Well, it usually became my job to check them all and sort them into two piles, working and not working. Usually there were one or two strings that sort of worked. You know, shake it and it works, shake it again and half of it goes out. I knew better than to put that into the working pile.
It was usually a two ladder job to string the tree lights. Dad on one ladder, and me on the other. Slowly, from top down passing lights around the tree, and stopping every once in a while to check the light density. Christmas tree light density is very important. If you step back and squint to make it all blurry, then if you see dark spots then that means your light density is too low. Dad taught me that. After we had strung fifteen or more strings of lights on our tree, we would have to get all the proper extension cords placed and running to the various outlets.
Having spent the better half of an afternoon wrapping lights around the tree, all while silently praying that some of them don’t go out while Dad is watching, we were finally ready. It’s time to decorate the tree. This is a part that the whole family must be present for. I mean, who can put the ornaments with your birth-date up, besides you. Come to think of it, who can put any of your ornaments up.
With such a huge tree you would think that decorating it would be easy, plenty of room for everyone, right? No, not exactly. It’s sort of a land grab to get the best tree real estate for your most prized ornaments. Everyone who comes into the house is going to look at your tree, and I’m thinking that I want everyone to notice my cool talking Darth Vader ornament, or the Spider-man with attachable web strings. So after a few hours, the tree is covered with ornaments ranging from futuristic space vehicles, to ornaments given to the people who tanked up at my Grandfathers gas station in the 40’s. I always love to look at all those ornaments, and to think of Christmas past. It’s as if Christmas is somehow always connected to the past, present, and future.
As I think back over all this, I realize something. I can barely remember what I got for Christmas, (that’s what videos are for) but I can remember all the things I did with my family. It was that work getting ready for Christmas that created these memories. Those special times will be with me forever.
So this Christmas, what are you doing to make Christmas special for your family? It’s not what you give or get that matters. It’s the quality time that infuses the Christmas spirit into your family. Whether you are creating your own traditions, or following those past down, remember to be generous with spirit and joy this year. May your Christmas be bright!
I have to go. I think I can hear my Dad having trouble with the lights again, and my Mom is calling me to help set the table for dinner. Nothing quite like the smell of Christmas candles and turkey to make you feel good.