When Christmas past is Christmas passed

Holiday decorations reveal season of love

December 02, 2010|Susan Reimer

I was digging around in all the Christmas stuff the other day and thinking, "Didn't I just do this?"

Actually, I did just do this.

Time got away from me last year, and I didn't get the Christmas decorations down until around Valentine's Day, and I didn't put them away until about Easter. I don't know. I was busy, I guess.

So, technically, I did just do this. For about the 28th time. And I found myself sighing with something like boredom.

Over the years, I have edited my collection of Christmas stuff so that only the best or most treasured items get a spot in our tiny house. But I have been careful to never cut back on this holiday in any way that my family would notice.

That's because I remember when my mother did. And I noticed.

My mother was not a Betty Crocker kind of woman. She was the kind of woman who read the Sunday New York Times from cover to cover. Holiday decorating, cooking and baking were not her strong points.

In any case, the style of the 1960s was "Mad Men" sleek and cold. Red foil paper on the front door and a metallic silver wreath. Both of them bathed in a spotlight that shone from the front yard. My place looks like a gingerbread house in comparison.

As my parents aged and downsized, so did the Christmas decorations. Each year, my mother would unpack one less item until all that was left was a fake tabletop tree that sat in the window, decorated with only a handful of ornaments.

I noticed. And it hurt.

Not because I felt like Christmas didn't matter to my parents, or that I didn't matter. Because for years they hosted a family Christmas Eve that included four daughters, four sons-in-law and 11 grandchildren.

Instead, I recognized in my parents' diminishing efforts at Christmas time a diminishing in their life force. More than shortness of breath or creaking knees or early bedtimes, the dwindling of the Christmas decorations signaled an irreversible slowing down, an unburdening, a letting go.

Years later, my father was gone and my mother, ill and weak, was leaving her home to live with my sister. There was a lot of sorting of stuff and a lot of giving away of stuff, and among the items left were those few Christmas decorations. My mother wanted to take them with her, but in the end, she did not.

So each Christmas I muster 11 months' worth of energy and put on a Christmas show that is the equal of every Christmas past. If I sigh, it is inaudible.

I am determined that even if my creaking knees and my early bedtime send some kind of signal to my family, Christmas will not.

Every year, Christmas will be the same. Even if I am not.


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