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Monday, November 8, 2010

A Search for Christmas (Getting into the Spirit)

My husband still thinks I'm crazy. You see, when my daughter was two months old, I decided she needed a Christmas tree in her room. Not one of those table top versions but a REAL tree, floor to ceiling version. Reluctantly, my significant other agreed, the only concession being that I get one of the slender ones. 

Well, little did I know at the time that there was not a single one of them left in the entire city of Richmond. After spending three days calling every retailer in the city, and about 1,000 miles of travel across town and back again and again, I made an offer. 

One local craft store had a display set up with twelve of the trees that I wanted, all decorated and everything. So....I suggested to the manager that they take everything off one of the trees and sell it to me. I even offered to pay for the labor to remove the ornaments. Seemed reasonable enough to me at the time right? After all this was the very same store that had promised they would have 500 trees come in that day which was why I was there in the first place. 

Well the manager informed me that the only way they could sell it off the floor was exactly how I saw it. The price? $400.00. The truly frightening thing is that I actually considered doing it. Paying $400.00 for a $50.00 tree. Amazing what desperation will do to you. I stood thinking that I could take some of the ornaments and use them on the family tree, use some as gifts to the mailman, the baby-sitter, etc., and could use the rest as gift toppers. Thankfully though, sanity returned and I made sure that the manager would retreat to his office and pencil my name in directly below that of Zsa Zsa Gabor's on his "customers to be avoided at any and all costs" list. 

So it was back to the drawing board for me. More trips across town, more phone calls and finally, a payoff! I called the above referenced store since they had promised me faithfully they'd have more coming in later in the week. They told me that those trees had still not come in, but that one tree had been returned and thankfully for us all, it wasn't the manager who answered the phone. 

Guaranteed that it had a sweet yellow HOLD tag on it with my name in big bold black letters, I rushed out on a wing and a prayer, determined that my only child would have this tree in her room before she reached puberty. 

It was there, just like they promised and exactly as I had pictured it in my Christmas spirit clouded mind. I rushed it home and barely had the box in the house before I was assembling this icon of Christmas perfection. I spent three hours shaping every single little branch and twig to assure absolute perfection before it dawned on me -- I had nothing to put on the tree after I finished making it perfect. All the heartache and effort to get the tree, and standing before me was the perfect synthetic evergreen without a single ribbon, bell or bow to adorn it. 

Exhausted from the search, I decided to sleep on the matter, although truth be known, it was already too late to even attempt to go out and get the job done. I'm sure you've got a pretty good guess what I dreamed about that night. Talk about "visions of sugarplums". After a very busy night of sleep, it came to me. I remembered those construction paper garlands we used to make thousands and thousands of feet of as kids. It was perfect! While I was out getting the construction paper, I could pick up the lights and some ornaments too. 

After two to twelve hours of frenzied shopping and a wallet $200 lighter, I cam home bearing the fulfillment of my wish in about a zillion of those little white plastic shopping bags. A tablet of construction paper to make the garlands, 600 bright colored lights, about 50 ornaments and a little angel for the top of the tree with lights in her skirt. I spent another three hours making sure the lights were as perfect as the tree, then three more cutting and glueing construction paper and finally, ornamentation begins! 

My daughter was asleep in her crib right beside the tree oblivious to all but her own little sugarplums. She woke before I finished up, so her Daddy took her in the den so I could finish up and she wouldn't see the tree before it was finished. After finally making sure that the tree would meet the very highest standards, it was almost time for the "grand illumination". I got Meaghan aka Kitty, dressed in a little velvet Christmas outfit and put bows in the little hair she had at the time, all the while ignoring my husband's eyes rolling around in his head like marbles at a "He Man Woman Hater's Club" marble tournament. I was actually beginning to wonder myself if all the energy and effort I had expended had been worth it. 

I still carry the picture of her face when she saw that tree and I've never questioned the effort since. Another concession was the angel, seems she just couldn't sleep with an angel blinking her skirt in the dark. (Who knew the lights BLINKED????). All in all though, that tree was the wisest investment in joy I've ever made. 

Meaghan is three now and we pick out new ornaments together each year, which is more fun than I had that first year, although it did cross my mind this year that one of these days, her idea of the perfect ornament will leave Miss Piggy in the barnyard and Raggedy Ann in the rag bin under the sink, but I've decided to worry about that a little bit later. 

She helped me decorate the tree this year, this being the first year she's been old enough to actually help, and it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. To see the smiles, and hear that innocent laughter was to me, the spirit of Christmas in it's truest form. Whenever anyone comes to the house, she immediately regales them with tales of her tree and takes their hand to lead them upstairs to her bedroom. Of course she also tells them that she did it all by herself. This year I added lights to her changing table, which is now being used as a refuge for endangered animals of the stuffed variety. I also found some of those static cling ornaments and put those up all over her four sliding glass closet doors. It was really quite beautiful, and you can imagine my surprise when I came into her room the next morning to find all of them from about three feet down stacked atop each other resting peacefully in bed with her! 

I think at some point in your adulthood, Christmas loses a lot of it's "magic". I didn't even realize this had happened to me until my daughter was born. Actually, it was only this year while I was wrapped up in finding the perfect gift for everyone on my list, cleaning the house like a fanatic, just in case someone stopped by and making enough sugar cookies to feed the Foreign Legion. I realized that Christmas for us grown ups just isn't what it used to be. As with everything else, responsibility seems to take a little something away from us. 

I decided to take a break for a minute, to actually exhale for a little while, when I saw my daughter sitting in front of the television watching Frosty the Snowman. I bought this tape for her the year before last and I can actually mind-block Frosty now having seen the tape around 70,000 times. 

But this time, something happened. 

I heard her singing the little Frosty theme song and for her it goes something like this....."Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy snow, with a corn pipe and a butt nose and two eyes made out of hole".... I looked at her face and what I saw there brought back so many childhood memories, I found my eyes welling up. I remembered all of those Christmases, and all of a sudden, the magic was back. It was only for a little while, but nevertheless, it was there. I saw finally, what she had been seeing since we'd started decorating. The innocence of a child's simple amazement. That sounds so simple, but I look back at the typed words and think that perhaps that one phrase could capture the essence of the entire holiday season. It was a revelation to me and I enjoyed Christmas more this year than I have in a very long time. 

This year, I informed my husband that I'm going to keep Meaghan's tree up all year and decorate it for each holiday. You're right, he thought I was crazy but he loves me, so he humors me every once in a while, and besides he gets the added pleasure of looking on while I go nuts trying to find the perfect ornaments for St. Patricks Day. It's going to be a lot of fun I think, although I do have one question.....Does anyone know where I can find little hanging shamrocks? Or maybe some green lights? OH OH OH I know! Wooden leprechauns.....ooooooh even better, four leaf clovers???? 

Why do I have a feeling this is not going to be as easy as I thought it might be. 

Donna J. P. Riley 
December 29, 1995 


A little thing I wrote many many years ago, but oddly enough, reading it again, it seems like just yesterday.  She doesn't have room for that tree in her room anymore.  Clothes and books and cd players and dvd players and playstations and posters of musicians have taken up all that room, but she still loves helping me decorate the downstairs.  The village is her favorite part and every year, no matter how broke we are, we manage a trip to the Dollar Tree to pick up a few more things to add.  

She just turned 18, and the past four years have been rather hellish.  As a parent, we always want to do things for our kids, and well, it just hasn't happened lately.  For her 18th birthday, we managed to scrape together the extra 20 bucks to get a necklace she'd had in layaway out for her.  I cried for weeks prior to her birthday about letting her down. 

It seems though that maybe the magic isn't just Christmas, it's the people we love.

Kitty has never cared about "things".  She's a miracle teenager I think.  She's happy shopping at Goodwill although she'd rather shop at American Apparel.  She's fine with WalMart when she loves Bygones (a vintage clothing shop here in Carytown with pricetags to make you weep).  Maybe we really CAN have that spirit of Christmas year round if we let go of the material and just rejoice in the blessings in our lives every single day.


AubrieAnne said...

This post almost made me cry. I love the fact that you held onto that old piece of writing to remind you of the time magic returned to you. I think that's just too important to lose. I also loved the reflection from today. It's beautiful.

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