The upcoming annual Holiday Homes Tour always takes me back to my youth, when decorating was easier because Mom was in charge.
Lured to the living room by John Denver and the Muppets and the scent of homemade slice-n-bake cookies, the four of us kids would wait patiently as Dad cursed at each and every strand of lights he tried to wrap around the branches of the freshly assembled 7-foot tree knowing full-well one strand, usually near the window for all the neighbors to see, would go dark within 72 hours.
The harsh reality of decking my own halls hit me in December of 1994, when my husband and I celebrated our first Christmas together. (We were 12.)
Breaking free from our parents’ penchant for plastic pine, we proudly selected a fragrant and extremely prickly but real-live Christmas tree of Charlie Brown proportions.
I am not sure if our tree drank more water or if our cat did, but the poor thing spent most of the month dropping needles. This would not be the last time in my adult life that I would come to better understand my mom’s frustrations with the holidays.
A few years later our Ellie spent her first Christmas joyfully cute but mostly immobile, posing no threat to our holiday décor. She spent her second Christmas waiting for Santa to deliver an Elmo and her mom to deliver a sister. No tree for our family that year, as I, like the Virgin Mary 1,998 years earlier, was too great with child to mess with one.
Itching to put up a Christmas tree again the following year, we trekked out to the tree farm with our two toddlers who strongly protested the mission until we arrived home, balanced and watered the tree and adorned it with lights, cursing at the burned-out strands just like my dad.
Our girls, oblivious to the reason for the season, were in awe of its unstable magnificence and delighted in rearranging the nativity below.
Baby Jesus was treated daily to a kick line featuring his parents and the Wise Men or a sheep hunt with the shepherd. The Holy Family Action Figures made for hours of entertainment but eventually led to the permanent disappearance of the manger babe and the subsequent imprisonment of the tree with an expandable toddler pen around it for its own safety and of those who tried to knock it over.
Today I find myself down one cat, up two more kids and a dog and on our third Baby Jesus, still light-years away from being featured in the Holiday Homes Tour.
I cracked under the pressure of a live tree sometime after the turn of the millennium and now make no attempt to hide it, allowing my fake tree’s white plastic branches to glow like a big, bristly angel in our front window for all the neighbors to see. Warm slice-n-bakes may have given way to frozen Thin Mints, but the traditional cursing at the lights continues as John Denver and the Muppets play on.