Christmas when I was growing up was all about the family. Once December hit, my mom would nag my dad to put up the house lights. My sister and I would hang around him, probably hindering more than helping, waiting to see our house turn into a fairy castle. We’d watch as he tested the lights on the garage floor first, not understanding why he had to waste time doing that. Hurry up, we’d chant, though he’d explain patiently, year after year, why he checked them.
Now that my own sons are grown, I still bug my husband after Thanksgiving to put up the house lights, reminiscent of my mom. The strands are lower now, not following the roofline like when we were young and foolish enough to climb to the highest rung of the ladder, but we continue to put up house lights, just as our parents did, and my married son does the same, now that he has a house.
There was the wind-up angel that sat on the black-and-white TV, her wings a little curled, yet the song “Silent Night” still chimed clearly when her base was twisted as tight as it could go. And, here is the strand of plastic holly with shiny apples to hang on the wall down the hallway, and the matching candle wreath for the kitchen table.
I still have the wreath and wall hanging. They occupy the same places in my house as they did in my childhood home. The angel has long since been discarded. She no longer played her hymn, probably because I overwound her, and her wings and skirt became casualties of moths over the years.
I decorate as my mom did, hanging the red-and-white stockings, and putting treasured pieces my sons made when they were little all around the house. I’ve added to the festive arrangements, like my collection of nutcrackers on the hearth, and I can thank my mom for instilling in me the importance of transforming my home into a winter wonderland for all to enjoy.
Right around the fifteenth of the month, my parents would bundle us into the family station wagon and head to the downtown tree lot. My sister and I would run through the “forest,” while Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” belted out from the overhead speakers hastily attached to wooden poles. We would search for the perfect tree and, when we found it, would shout for our parents to come see. Then we would jump up and down until they gave their approval, or sent us searching for another.
Once we all agreed on the tree, the lot attendants would use the twine my dad brought, and tie it to the roof of our car. The twine would go through the front windows, anchoring our treasure. Then we would drive home s-l-o-w-l-y, so afraid the tree would slide to one side or the other, and break branches. Though it often slid, no branches ever came off.
My dad would always hose off the dead needles, so we had to wait until the next evening before he brought it in. And then the decorating began, with silver garland, and strand after strand of colored, glass bulbs that could render a whole section of the tree dark if one light went out. I can still remember my mom’s strident “Roy!” when my dad hung the lights haphazardly, or got too many of the same color bulbs together. I think my sister and I might have learned some of the most common swear words during tree decorating.
Not too much has changed in my own family. I play Christmas music and make hot chocolate while we decorate our tree, which can be green or flocked, depending on my mood. My husband is more of a perfectionist than my dad, so the lights don’t elicit much argument, except when he wants to put them on the branch tips, instead of zig-zagging them throughout the tree. My younger son, the one in the Army and married, is the best tree-light installer. He does a beautiful job, and I’m jealous that his new wife gets to enjoy his endeavors now.
Christmas reminds us of our childhood, and we can’t help but relate to our parents when we celebrate with our own families. It’s not bad to see our parent looking back at us in the mirror. It’s the connection to our past, and the bridge to our future. Perhaps Charles Dickens was on to something when he created the ghosts of the past, present, and future.
Do you see your parents in the way you celebrate Christmas? I’d love to hear.