Christmas Transformation

Dear Will:

On Saturday I found myself staring up at the rafters in the garage, anticipating with dread the prospect of hauling down all of the Christmas decorations to begin the annual transformation of our home for the holidays.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas, and I love how our home feels when all of the decorations are in place. But the labor required to get our home into that state is significant: We have to rearrange furniture. We have to find temporary homes for all of the stuff that will be displaced by the things up in the rafters. And worst of all: I have to put up the lights.

Oh, the lights. That part I genuinely despise. I generally put them up wrong the first time, invariably banging my bald head on the eaves a few times during the ordeal. And when at last they’re all in place, I plug them in to discover a short or a failed bulb that renders a whole section inoperable. Others aspire to riches so that they can drive a fancy car. For me, it’s so I can pay someone else to put up the Christmas lights. (Alas, I am not rich.)

After spending a weekend sorting and stashing and propping and plumping, after hooking and hanging and no doubt festooning, I finally get to step back with my wife and kids and admire the work. We’ll put on some favorite Christmas music (my first choice is usually Amy Grant), light the candles in the family room, and sit back to watch things sparkle. And when we do that, my heart finally softens and fills with the spirit of the season. Works like a charm. I just have to get there first.

So Saturday’s the day we’ll begin. No doubt the decorating will extend into our Sunday afternoon, but by this time next week we’ll be enjoying the fruits of our labors. And it will all, once again, be worth it. But between now and then I will anticipate the beginning of the process with enough grinchiness that it will confirm that Christmas cannot come too soon.

If you’re anything like me—and I pray that you aren’t—you may need a little extra push to get into the Christmas spirit. But whether or not you’re like me, may I recommend the annual Community Christmas Celebration as an excellent way to get in the mood and ring in the season. As I may have told you before, the event is a combination of nativity displays and holiday music. We’ve been going nearly every year for over a decade. We love it, as I think you will too.

I hope to see you there. I’ll be the guy with the fresh gash on his forehead and a slowly melting heart.


How to Fill Your Home with the Holiday Spirit

Dear Will:

Since I have a model family, I feel it my obligation to share with you some straightforward advice on how best to fill your home with the holiday spirit. I suggest you start with the decorations. . . .

A.  Put Up the Lights

You might think that it is still the Thanksgiving weekend—a time set aside for gluttony and football—when you discover, much to your delight, that the otherwise terrific guy next door has already festooned his abode with bright and cheerful electric doodads. “When are you going to put up our lights, Beloved?” your eternal companion might sing, filling your heart immediately with Christmas cheer. “Oh, I don’t know, Pumpkin,” you’ll say, “I was hoping perhaps to do it tomorrow during the UCLA-Oregon game.” Overjoyed that you have already embraced her vision, she’ll skip into the house with a fa la la la la.

You’ll start with great brio the next day because putting up the lights is always a highlight of the year for you—especially when there’s a big game on. We suggest the following essential steps:

  1. Untangle the lights. Or not. Throw away the ones that inexplicably become more tangled as you untangle them. Hum happily to yourself.
  2. Put up the first strand with brisk efficiency. After you discover that you have wrong end toward the outlet, take it down and redo it. Give the guy next door a friendly, high-spirited wave.
  3. Bang your head on the roof overhang, opening a gash which casts a Christmassy red across your pale, bald head. Chuckle to yourself as you ponder your amusing misfortune.
  4. Put up the second strand of lights. Replace the bulbs you break when you step on them. Then when it becomes clear that the plug cannot reach the socket, take it down and redo it. Whistle with contentment.
  5. Bang your head on the roof again. Just for the fun of it.
  6. Plug in the lights to check your progress. When half of the lights in one strand won’t come on, spend an hour or so trying to figure out which bulb is responsible for the broken circuit. Give up and rip the entire strand from the eaves with a merry “Ho Ho Ho.”
  7. Continue hanging and rehanging lights until dusk. Fall off of the ladder only as frequently as necessary. Pretend that you really didn’t care about the football game anyway. Think lovingly about your children who sit inside playing video games and texting their friends.
  8. Invite your sweetheart outside to admire the finished product. Give her a warm, affectionate squeeze when she says, “Tomorrow we start on the inside of the house.”

B.  Decorate the Tree

Much to the consternation of your eldest children, the tree comes in a box. Since it consists of three distinct parts, erecting the tree is a lot easier than, say, putting up the lights—which, we realize, does not explain the split lip and the chipped tooth. Be that as it may, the tree goes up in a relative jiffy.

Now comes the fun part: As the ornaments come out of the box, the time has arrived for the traditional, festive colloquy between the strident eldest children, who miss the days of yore “when we shopped for a real tree” each December, and the mom, who reminds them each year that, since we live in California, the trees that are trucked here from Oregon have been dead since Labor Day.  The substance of the discussion might go something like this:  Kids: “Tradition!” Mom: “Fire!” And so on. Until Valentine’s Day.

C.  Deck the Halls

You may not have boughs of holly, but you should have an array of baubles and oddments with which to make the season bright. As you distribute them where once you could find the remote control, observe in particular the stupefying array of snowmen which quickly establish a beachhead in your family room. (Should time allow, you may also wish to ponder the prominence of frosty décor in a place which hasn’t seen snow since there were wooly mammoths hot-tubbing in the La Brea Tar Pits.) As the kids scurry about with their favorite bits of bric-a-brac, notice how the mood has somehow shifted.

When each piece is in its place and the ancillary detritus has been stowed, ditch the yeti and go around the corner to the living room, where instead of elves and reindeer you’ll find shepherds and sheep of various varieties. Take a seat, and perhaps you’ll notice for the first time the holiday music that now fills your home, or the laughter (can it be?) emanating from all three children simultaneously. Cast your eyes about at the scene: On the wall hangs a picture of the Jesus, beside it a favorite print of timid shepherds stealing a glimpse of Mary and Joseph’s newborn son. There might be a wonderful paper crèche from Mexico City or one your son made many years ago out of aluminum foil. And if you’re lucky, you’ll spy a simple display made of olivewood which gets an honored spot on the table in the middle of the room. Notice also that in each crèche all eyes are on the baby. And who knows? You may find that yours are on the baby as well.

And so they should be at this time of year, tangled lights and plastic trees notwithstanding. It is, after all, the time of “peace on earth, good will to men”—provided, that is, that you don’t ask about the split lip.