When I was a kid, my mom decorated our whole house. She had specific things for each window, garlands for the railings, outdoor lights, indoor lights, old decorations, bubble lights you couldn’t buy anymore, ornaments I made in kindergarten and at Sunday school every year when I was really young. She made the house feel magical. Every year she’d drag me around to fabric stores, department stores, hardware stores, and even grocery stores to find new decorations. One year she ordered a bunch of craft kits to make ornaments. One kit made snowflakes and every time we would sit down to make the ornaments, it would start snowing outside. After that year, every time she got them out, we would get a huge snowstorm. Once she moved them around in the storage room in April and we got a freak snowstorm that night. After that she swore that she would only move them to decorate for Christmas and they’d have a secret location in storage where no one could accidentally activate their snowstorm power. It was our running joke that she could create snow with them.
Christmas as an adult was just ok. I sometimes spent Christmas alone, or with just the ex since we were stationed from both of our families. Sometimes we would spend it with our families and eventually my parents moved closer so I could experience my mom’s decorating again, which always brought me joy. She has scaled back quite a bit, but she still has great style.
I do not possess any ability to decorate anything and I don’t have the desire to learn but I do love being in a well-decorated house. I tried for a few years when we had Boy #1 and Boy #2 but eventually I was the only one doing anything and the only one putting it all away. I was in charge of all the things happening every day, plus homework, school paperwork, working full time, meal planning, cleaning up after pets, children, and decorating was a bridge too far. Eventually we stopped buying a Christmas tree we could decorate and bought one in a pot. Then we would plant the tree after Christmas. I liked the idea, but I lost the ability to enjoy Christmas.
When I was deployed in 2017, I spent Christmas overseas. Leadership goes out of their way to make things easier for single people, whose parents and partners often sent them stuff. The assumption was always that people with families back home would get gifts from their families. So all the random “Christmas gifts for troops” went to the unmarried people intentionally. No one ever knew that I was the one who got zero gifts from my family back home. My parents assumed the ex would send something. The ex couldn’t be bothered. A couple friends sent Christmas cards. And I bought myself stuff on Amazon because I knew I wasn’t going to get anything from home. I got one Christmas card from a college friend hoping I was doing ok and staying safe. I waited to open it until I got back to my room because looking at it made me choke up every time. It was the first piece of Christmas mail that I got and one of like three. It made me really sad to think about how everyone else assumed I was fine and I was too stupid to tell anyone I wasn’t ok. That was the final nail in my coffin of Christmas enjoyment. I no longer cared about Christmas. I would buy the gifts and wrap them, but no decorating, no cookies, no parties, no enjoyment, nothing but a shell pretending to be happy and joyful.
Christmas 2018 the ex bought me things that I didn’t care about. It was like there was nothing to even care about anymore, so it just whatever might be remotely relevant to something I might like. I didn’t care. It was like neither of us cared to even try. 2019 was even worse. I was so sad and settling into a deep depression that would overtake me by the end of the year. Christmas was just another day in a year full of shitty days, although I had a few good moments in the spring and summer.
From the start of 2020, I knew it was going to be a different year. There was no pandemic yet, I was in that deep depression I already mentioned, and I had just found out that I was getting out of the Air Force at the end of 2020, not 2024 that I had originally been led to believe. I had made some long term financial decisions based on the 2024 date, so I was in a bit of a mess financially. I decided to just roll with the punches.
Long story short, by the fall of 2020, the ex and I were done, my wife and I were together and I had moved in with her. I remember the first time she was decorating for Christmas. She was so joyful. There was Christmas music playing and I felt this wall around my heart cracking open. I was filled with so much pain because I had lost my Christmas cheer years before. It wasn’t about presents or cards or anything like that. I held myself together for awhile as I sat quietly watching her. I was remembering things like the way my mom loved this basket of fake poinsettias she had. It took her years, but eventually she had like 60 of them divided between two large baskets. I was hanging in there, trying to not cry until I heard that one song “Where Are You Christmas” and I lost it. I just started sobbing and it made no sense to my wife. I tried to explain it through my tears, how I had once loved Christmas more than anything but I hadn’t felt happy about it in so long.
It was a weird moment, trying to explain that I loved this thing and I could have it again, but first I had to shatter and feel the sadness at having lost it. I hadn’t felt that ever. I just walled myself off and refused to feel any joy around Christmas. Sometimes I’d find a present that I knew the kids would love, or we took them to Disney as most of their Christmas present and that was fun. I loved Christmas at Disney, actually. That’s the only place I felt real joy about Christmas. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party was one of the most joyous things I’ve ever experienced. But it was easy to just think of that as a Disney thing and not a Christmas Day thing.
I bought a Christmas tree cookie jar and a lot of Hersey kisses to fill it; like maybe 10 lbs, which was excessive I admit. I was so excited when it arrived. Last year I filled it again and the kids loved it. When I was taking it downstairs at the beginning of this year, the top flew off and the star broke off the top. We were able to glue it back on and all was fine.
Today was our day to get most of the decorating done. My wife is an expert decorator. She has all the things and does it so nicely. It’s something I always look forward to. Girl also loves it and helps out the whole time, never shying away from doing the work. She loves decorating just like my mom does and that makes me so happy. I couldn’t give her that experience but I am so happy that my wife can. Another long story short, my little Christmas tree took another dive and unfortunately the entire bottom broke and shattered. (It also took out part of a pumpkin awaiting its return to storage on the way down.) I was so sad, a little bit because the tree broke, but more so because my wife was very upset. It was a complete accident and she felt so bad. But the more I think about it, the more I think that tree needed to shatter. Sure, it was from our first Christmas together and me bringing back memories of my mom’s tree like that full of Hershey’s kisses, but the top is still intact after last year’s dive. That tree had to shatter like I had to shatter to fully love Christmas again.
After a lot of internet searching, I found the tree again. It was cheaper than it was when I first bought it two years ago, actually and so we bought two. All is well. The tree was replaceable and the memory of how it first came into our lives will always be there. And I can enjoy Christmas just like I used to when I was a kid, in a spectacularly decorated home that someone else is able to decorate!!