Thursday, November 24, 2005

'Tis the Season

Here in Indianapolis, we woke up to the first snow of the season yesterday! Lots of busy days to come while family and friends are traveling for holidays, parties, graduations (congratulations, nephew), errands, and shopping. This year, it marks for me the observation again of an age old family tradition -- in my parents house and mine: dressing the house.

Since I can remember, Thanksgiving weekend marked one of my favorite times of the year, the weekend we decorated the house and put in the tree. My mother always threw a formal luncheon at Christmas and the house was pristine. For eleven months of the year, big boxes marked "XMAS" lived on high shelves in the garage. For a child, they were filled with all the excitement of the season. The Saturday after Thanksgiving (or the weekend after that if we were traveling) was the day the boxes came down and we unpacked loved Christmas treasures -- I remember boxes of decorations for the tree (small frosted fruit baskets and bows), elaborate centerpieces with greenery and figurines, banners, garlands with frosted fruit, and all other assorted decorative pieces. It was a day to greet old friends and be delighted by ones I'd forgotten. I wasn't allowed to help with much until I was old enough to really contribute. (My mom was on a schedule!) Plus along with unpacking box after box came un-fun jobs like cleaning light fixtures, ironing endless bows and ribbon, and moving furniture readying the house for the holiday season. The entire process was capped by bringing in the tree (always live) and putting on ornaments. We always did this last -- usually on a Sunday night.

This year, since I'm gone on the weekend, today and tomorrow are my own days for holiday decorating. Since early this morning with the Macy's parade on the television, I've been taking up rugs, moving furniture, and bringing boxes down from storage. Later today, there will be window washing, touch-up painting, ironing, assembling garlands, sweeping, cleaning, and more. By the end of tomorrow, all will be ready for the tree next week. (A big, live Frasier fir every year.)

Over the years, friends have called my need to put the house in holiday plumage everything from pretentious to just plain weird. I've never corrected them because I just can't describe it to anyone who didn't grow up with it. But to me, decorating my own home was an extension of all my mother passed on to me. It was a sign of being grown up, taking ownership, taking pride, and wanting to express my joy of the holidays in a formal way. To me, building my first box marked "XMAS" was a wonderful process -- still containing all the mystery and excitement of the holidays just like when I was a kid. Opening all the boxes from storage still excites me in the same way! As I unpack, I find old, beloved treasures and new, wonderful decorations I'd forgotten.

If all of this sounds prissy and weird, don't worry, I'm used to it. Christmas and dressing my house has become a personal joy for me over the years -- as much as my mother's was to her. I realize now the real reason I wasn't allowed to help until I was older. She wanted the joy of reveling in it all by herself. I know that special pride and desire to do it all alone. (Plus, my mom often refused help so she could do things exactly the way she wanted -- a characteristic I inherited as well.)

So, today as I dress the house, as usual, the spirit of my mother is close by. Now I can share this with her in a way I never was able to as an adult. And I know she appreciates every bit of it.

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