For the first time in 10 years I’ve put up a Christmas tree. The last time was the year my son left home after HS graduation. Yep, I’ve got a 26 year old, but that’s not the point so bring your brain back here. The point is it’s been a decade since I last put up a tree, strung the lights, hung ornaments, cared. Not about the holidays — I’ve continued to care about them. I’ve just not cared to decorate.
The best Christmas I’d had for the span of my entire adult life was that first Christmas I threw care to the wind and dared to not bother with any of it. I was free. Free of the stress of attempting to fit it all in, free of the burden to take it all down and store it away after the holidays were over, free to sit back, sip cider, watch the fire, listen to the crackle of logs, bake at my own pleasurable pace, lay back on the sofa with a warm blanket and just soak in the joy of the season, and my freedom.
I spent time walking around town, gazing at lights, listening to children’s tinkling laughter. For the first time I understood what the spirit of the season was all about. My heart was light.
My mother, sister, aunt, and girlfriends, were horrified. And have continued to be horrified. The walk-to-the-beat-of-my-own-drum leanings meant I relished their horror to an extent. I’ve wanted to answer their burning question, but I never really had the stage for it. Until now.
So what kind of person doesn’t put up a tree?! I’ll tell you what kind of person. A woman who was a single mother working 60+ hours a week, with shopping to do and food to prepare for her contribution to the family holiday gatherings, sitting in front of a mound of crappy gifts she’d overspent on because she didn’t have the time to bargain hunt with tears of stress streaming down her cheeks while she threw tape and paper on them, all the while knowing she had to face the reverse of it all when the holidays were over. A woman who wanted to sit on the sofa with a son and read Christmas stories sipping hot chocolate, but instead stayed up past midnight stringing lights because, that’s what we do for our children.
What kind of person doesn’t put up a Christmas tree? The kind of woman who’d gotten her son raised and decided to take some time for herself. And I liked it. A lot. So much so I’ve reveled in the pure, undecorated experience of the season for 10 years.
My life changed when I married 5 years ago. For the better. And the easier. And while I could have easily decorated the past few years, my husband’s take on it all was equally as unconcerned as mine.
We had 2 things we retrieved from the basement every year – a hooked wool rug of a frog dressed like Santa sitting on the back of a huge trout and a 2 ft. tall Elvis holding a guitar who swayed and sang “I’ll have a Blue Christmas” when you push a button on his base.
Our decorating conversation went something like this. After dinner one of us would look at the other and say “you wannna decorate?” The other would say “Yes!” We’d silently walk downstairs to the basement, get one decoration each, carry them back up the stairs, place them, push the button on Elvis, straighten the rug, smile to each other, and sit back down. Done. It was GLORIOUS.
Every year has brought mounting pressure to decorate our lovely home. Our friends and family never caught on to the humor of Elvis and the frog/fish rug. Their appreciation was woefully lacking.
I succumbed this year. My son is home for the first time in many. It seemed an appropriate year to open the stored Christmas boxes and get back on that horse. I can’t say I looked forward to it. The last time I went through the steps, it was gut wrenchingly stressful. My brain hasn’t forgotten that feeling. But opening those boxes revealed things from my son’s childhood I’d forgotten about. Smiles and sounds and delight.
The vice-like stress of it all was gone, replaced with only pleasurable memories and a sigh of relief. The dread was over. That time in my life was behind me.
I’ll never decorate like I used to. The pressure disappeared when my son left home. I too grew up and realized I didn’t care what anyone else thought, and the overwhelming need to keep up with the feat of decoration my hyperactive and overachieving Mom had always managed (and still does) blissfully receded and then disappeared completely from my lengthy to-do list.
I’m much happier with less stress and wholeheartedly believe those around me are happier as a result. They don’t care about how many strands of lights are twinkling in my house or the footage of my tree. I’m kinder, more cheerful, more tolerant. My relaxed self is a gift to others. And I firmly believe that that is a gift my friends and family prefer over any other kind of wattage.