Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How I Got Christmas Spirit (No More Bah-Humbug)

Frequent readers should not be surprised to learn Christmas was a less than magical time around our house when I was growing up (I won't go into details I'm sure you're already familiar with through my writing).  So when I moved out on my own at the late age of twenty-three (hey, I didn't make a lot of money as a bank teller in the mid-1980s), I would have been happy to skip the Christmas season altogether.  I owned not one Christmas decoration, I never set up a tree, and, with the exception of an invitation to attend dinner at a family member's house, the occasion came and went without marking it in any particular way (although, at the time, I attended midnight mass at St. Pius X, which I looked forward to--this before having to reconcile the homosexuality/organized religion thing).

Over a decade later, after Chris and I had moved into our first place together, he knew I had no interest in Christmas.  For the first few years, we didn't decorate at all.  I didn't want one sparkly bauble to detract from the everyday decor of our apartment.  Plus, I didn't understand the point of spending all that money and time buying decorations and setting them up, only to take them all down again in a few short weeks and find somewhere to store them in a small apartment.  (Not to mention, I came from a family that hauled out the same tacky, garish decorations year after year that my sister and I were expected to hang about the house and on the tree.  I couldn't wait until the large, ratty box filled with ugly ornaments, garlands, and tinsel was empty so we could stop the nonsense and move on with life.)

One Christmas season in the mid-1990s, Chris was out with his mother.  He came home with a small Norfolk Island pine tree in a pot he'd bought at Save-On Foods, a local grocery store. Twist-tied to several branches were green pipe cleaners at the end of which were an assortment of tiny decorations--a bugle, a French horn, several faux presents wrapped in different colors of foil, a white styrofoam bell, a silver bell, and, at the very top, a star.  Chris passed the tree to me, a little kid smile on his face.  I jokingly gave him hell for bringing a bit of Christmas into our apartment, but how could I begrudge him something so cute and unobtrusive to mark the season?  We placed the tree on our coffee table, removing the decorations in early January and adding it to our overall household inventory.    

Town Square, Main Street, U.S.A., Disneyland, CA
The true magic of Christmas continued to elude me until early December 1997.  That's when I went to Disneyland in California for the first time during the holiday season.  I'd been there four times previously--once in April, twice in August, and once in June--and I'd fallen in love with it (actually, I'd fallen in love with the idea of it long before I ever went, as I'd watched scenes from the park on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, broadcast on Sundays at 6:00 p.m. throughout most of my childhood).  Initially, I thought if Disneyland was magical outside of Christmas, imagine what it might be like in December.  But, then, I began to regret my decision to go at that time.  What if everything I loved about the place was covered over with tasteless decorations?  How could I have made such an error in judgement?  

The only error I made was thinking the magic of Disneyland could be somehow diminished by the overlay of Christmas.  What I found instead--helped considerably by the warm and hospitable weather of Southern California--was nothing short of extraordinary.  Main Street, U.S.A. was by far my favorite place to linger, reminding me of a quaint and charming Victorian village on an old-fashioned Christmas card (minus the snow, of course), with elaborate swags and garlands hung on buildings and across the street itself; detailed seasonal displays in the shop windows; and a massive 50 foot-plus Christmas tree in Town Square, loaded with small ornaments at the top, graduating to enormous ones at the bottom.  (Not to mention carollers, red and white poinsettias everywhere, and plenty of holiday treats to savor.)

From that point forward, I was overcome with the magic of Christmas, and, thankfully, it's never left me (of course, another nine trips to Disneyland during subsequent holiday seasons didn't hurt either, just to reinforce everything I'd experienced the first time).  In fact, I was so filled with the enchantment of the park, I began to think of ways to extend it into my life back home.  A decade or more later, Chris and I now go all out decorating for Christmas (keeping it tasteful, of course). Over the years, we've selected a different color scheme each season, spent a small fortune on an assortment of decorations and decorating materials, and turned our home, wherever we might be, into a warm and inviting place, capturing, in our own small way, the magic I experienced at "the merriest place on earth."

This year, we saw sets of decorations in several flyers that arrived in newspapers, and we went to a few stores to take a look at what was available.  While our color scheme last Christmas was red, white, and silver, this season, we decided on blue and gold, based on a set of the most beautiful glass ornaments we'd ever seen (and the most ornate ones we've ever bought).  Our color choices in mind, I set about deciding how best to decorate our home, trying to refrain from repeating what I've done in the past (at least not for the large displays), thereby ensuring Christmas remains fresh and exciting, and putting me to the test in terms of looking at our house, and our existing furniture, differently, and figuring out the best way to create a wonderful experience for those who come over to share the holiday season with us.

I'd be the first to admit Christmas is much more than decorating a house, gift giving, and overindulging.  I never want to lose sight of the fact that it's all about the birth of Christ, celebrated on December 25th, and everything we do should in some way honor and respect that occasion. At the same time, what an opportunity, particularly in the northern hemisphere--where the days are shorter and darker, and where winter will soon be upon us--to generate human kindness and warmth by bringing together those who are most dear to us and creating wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. And what an opportunity to look at our homes and our lives in a new way, to see the magic that is always around us in the smallest of details, and to find that place within where the true spirit of Christmas resides year round.

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