Even with Covid hovering with its Damocles sword, I managed to have the most wonderful Thanksgiving, eating turkey, playing Dutch Blitz, and gabbing with people I love until I was ready to drop straight into bed. As if that wasn’t plenty, my holiday decorations are completely deployed, and I finished my Christmas shopping. If you need me, I’ll be in the corner throwing confetti and doing the hula!
I should probably mention that decorating my house for Christmas is not the work of an afternoon, even though I’m down to three trees, three nativities, and confining myself to a single Christmas village, rather than the six in my basement, not including the Halloween village that already strutted its stuff this year.
When my children were little, I put full-size trees in each of their rooms. Abby’s tree was pink and purple and peridot green, with flamingos and horses, and all things Abby-girl. Chase and Porter’s tree was a large 10-footer with drums, pterodactyls, and a little train running around the bottom. I’m glad I did that because we’re all older now and that enchanted time is past, never to return, but there’s no need to get too maudlin. The kids are taller now, and I can rope them into helping me make the magic.
Setting up a tree is really better as a family affair, particularly as time passes and most of the generic ornaments fall away, leaving the essential bits and birds collected on family trips and outings, each carrying a snip of family history, a record of a horse phase, or days spent at Versailles or the dinosaur museum. A couple of years ago my nephew, Sam, was setting up the tree with his two sisters who were waxing rather nostalgic and sentimental as they pulled ornaments from their boxes. Getting into the spirit, Sam picked up an old broken snowman and said in his most affected voice, “Oh, this reminds me we should love Christmas, no matter how many body parts we’re missing.”
At our house the living room tree is white and gold with polished pearl oyster shells I had drilled at the pearl market in Suzhou, and pearl icicles I had custom-made. The tv room tree is all fanciful Dr. Seussish, crazy feathers and bright, fantastic creatures, first created because Porter had played in Seussical the Musical just a few months before. Each tree has a unifying theme, until we get to the family room tree, traditionally the catchall where the children’s grade school creations, and souvenir ornaments of our family trips get their groove on for the holidays. It would never grace the cover of a magazine, but it is always our favorite.
This year Abby and Porter set it up while I was at work, and when I got home I questioned the placement of the bright red bow topper which seemed a tad low, positioned as it was beneath the feet of the black clad skeleton at the top, holding a spare skull. Luckily, Porter set me straight. “Jack Skellington is performing a Hamlet soliloquy, and he’s standing over a river of blood.” That makes perfect sense, after all Christmas is all about nostalgia, and what could be more nostalgic than Shakespeare’s tale of 14th-century death and suicide . . . It’s possible Porter is getting back at me for the creepy painting I keep hanging in the bathroom when I find where he’s hidden it, or possibly the life-size Harry Potter Dobby I positioned at the top of the stairs that scares him in the middle of the night. It’s also possible that I am not a good mother.
With the family room tree and its murderous saga all set, it was time to turn to the infamous Christmas village. I picked my North Pole village this year because I had never actually seen it. Like most of my villages, I accumulated it a piece at a time, here and there on Chinese Taobao, where you can find factory seconds and overruns for 90% off. It was too good to pass up, and as morsels and fragments of various villages became available over a two-or-three-year period, I snapped them up, squirreling the individual boxes away in my closet. Then I got cancer, plans changed, and all our possessions were packed in giant wooden crates and unceremoniously dropped in the United States. With being sick and all, it took a couple of years to sort everything out. Consequently, it is only now that I’m getting around to seeing some of my lost holiday decor for the first time. I figured I was ready to get back on my game, and decided to do the well-loved Dickens village in the living room, and the North Pole in the great room, but just the thought had Porter feeling a little overwhelmed. We compromised, North Pole it is.
Turns out, he was right to be overwhelmed.
Wednesday evening Porter and I began hauling village boxes from the Room of Requirement in the basement. Box . . . after box . . . after box . . .
Really, this many??
It felt like ages that we were pulling small, cleverly detailed buildings from their individual styrofoam packing, each more charming than the last. Soon the dining table had filled, the excess spilling onto any available surface. When the last building had been pulled free, we breathed a mutual sigh of relief. I went hunting for more light cords, and returned with five more buildings.
Porter and I paused, staring at the disaster zone around us, and sat down on the two couches facing each other. “I don’t know, Mom,” he said.
“I need to think about what I’ve done,” I replied, disconsolately.
The village was undeniably adorable, each building unique and a joy to behold, but it was just SO FREAKING BIG! How could I have been so stupid? I know what I spent, and I still don’t understand how such a small investment multiplied into the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.
It had been a very long day, punctuated by a flat tire and a good deal of general unpleasantness. Sometimes retreat is the better part of valor; we decided to go to bed.
The next morning I dragged out of my comforter, knowing it was time to face the debacle with no one to blame but myself, not knowing I was about to be handed a gift. It was Thanksgiving morning; Porter had gotten up earlier, and without being asked had already begun stacking books on the mantel to create levels. Galvanized by gratitude, I jumped in and pretty soon we had set the layers and covered everything in white batting. Knowing we couldn’t fit everything, we picked our favorites, and puzzled in as many as possible over the fireplace, then set the Disney components in the bay window ledge behind the sink. That left half, and we decided to create a North Pole business district that ran all around under Hamlet and his bloody Christmas tree. We didn’t quite fit everything, but we were close, and I’m calling that a victory.
Stepping back, I know that some might find it strange that the Hamlet at the top of the Christmas tree is holding a skull, and the hamlet at the bottom boasts a sleigh wash, a karaoke bar, and a nutcracker factory. That’s okay. Because of Covid and her nasty sword, few but our family will ever see it, and we will smile at one another and understand. A Christmas tree really is a family affair, no matter how many body parts we’re missing.