Growing up, our family put up the Christmas tree one week before Christmas and took it down one week after. Two weeks. That was my father’s preference. I have no doubt we begged and pleaded to put it up earlier, but all I really remember is the glorious feeling of anticipation – the kind you almost don’t want to end, because, let’s face it, most of the joy at Christmas is having something to look forward to.
Maybe that’s why some of us start decorating earlier and earlier each year, trying to recreate that feeling of anticipation. Since having kids, I’ve been putting up our Christmas decorations as soon as Thanksgiving was over. We’ve always spent Christmas at my parents’ house, so I justified my break with the-week-before rule as giving me ample time to enjoy my hard work, considering I still follow the-week-after rule. In 21 years of marriage and 16 years in this house, we’ve only spent one Christmas here: the year I was too pregnant to travel. Preparing for Christmas and hosting family members, while waiting for the birth of my second child (who was induced on Epiphany) gave me a whole new perspective on anticipation.
This year, I’m hosting Christmas in my home for only the second time, with my parents, both sisters, and one niece. The hope is that a change in tradition will help distract the boys and me from what and who we’re missing.
Although I’ve started preparing for my guests by working on some long overdue household repairs and clean-up, I’ve put off decorating as early as I have in the past. At first, I just wasn’t in the mood, then, I couldn’t find the time. But, this weekend, something clicked and I decorated our house with the kind of energy and enthusiasm I haven’t had in months. The song “We Need a Little Christmas” from Mame stuck in my head, helping ward off the ghosts of Christmas past and present. I deftly set aside decorations that were distinctly “ours” – his and mine – and challenged myself to upcycle everything else, either literally altering its appearance or altering the way I used it to decorate our home.
I thought briefly about buying new decorations, but quickly realized that wasn’t the answer to this year’s dilemma. First, we don’t have the disposable income for things we’ll only use a few weeks. Second, and more important, my boys are still young enough that half of their joy comes from seeing beloved decorations come down from the attic. I just had to walk the line between pleasant/familiar and painful/triggering.
Because our stocking hangers spell out N-O-E-L (four letters for four Bradleys), I couldn’t just remove one. Nor did I want to hang three stockings and leave one hanger empty. So, I opted to hang a velvet, drawstring bag I still had from my childhood as my stocking this year, and strung it across two hangers to fill the gap. My boys noticed and we talked about finding a three-letter word for our stocking hangers next year, like J-O-Y. My youngest said, “or S-A-D,” but smiled a little when he said it and hugged me, before we resumed decorating.
I think, instead of our usual excited anticipation for Christmas this year, the three of us are nervously anticipating what 2018 will bring. So, this is my focus this week, my wish for my boys, and my wish for you:
I hope whatever holiday you celebrate this month is filled with just the right mix of fond memories and new traditions, that you learn to equate anticipation with possibility, and that, whatever 2018 brings, you have what you need to make something of it.