As I opened each bin, they oohed and ahhed, told me they remembered this one and that one was their favorite, and quickly volunteered to find it a place in the house. They love the decorations that sing songs, play music or light up and move. Hallmark has secured a place in their hearts already. We play Christmas music and drink hot chocolate out of mugs shaped like snowmen, complete with top hat lids, that I purchased before I had children just for these days.
White lights for the outside, icicle lights of course, and as many colorful lights as I can get wrapped on the tree. Of course, there are always the lights that stop working once they're up, or the occasions when I blow out the lights because I have connected too many together.
But these minor setbacks, although they do inspire most of frustration and angst, contribute to the whole process that is Christmas.
We cut a tree down every year. It takes an hour walking around discussing this one and that, saying, "How about this one?" "No, I like this one better." It's too tall." We finally narrow it down to two or three and then run back and forth between them, eyeing them up, appraising their fine shapes and straight trunks. We decide and then begin to cut it down. The kids each get a turn with the saw. We drink hot chocolate in styrofoam cups, eat fried doughnuts with frosting that's too sweet and take our tree home.
The tree brings its own set of problems, like the lights, the trunk won't fit in the stand, it's not straight, it needs to be trimmed, it drops needles that we won't find until we step on them with our bare feet in July, and of course, there is always that fear that once it's up and decorated it will fall over or leak water and make the wood floors buckle and warp. But it wouldn't be Christmas without every joy and every trial.
And so, as I get older, I realize more and more that what I love about Christmas is the "process," the days from the memory of a Thanksgiving feast to the last minute of Christmas Eve. I love the lights, the music, selecting perfect gifts, wrapping up presents in shiny packaging, the smell of cookies baking, the colorful glow over the neighborhood at night, and the warmth of family and friends. It is the trip to see Santa, the countdown on the advent calendars, the lists, the daily visits from the UPS men, and the opening of Christmas cards with the latest pictures of friends and family we haven't seen in too long. These are the things I love, and I know that when Christmas comes it is the highlight for the kids, but for me it is the slightly sad after glow of the process, the culmination of anticipation. I could easily leave the presents under the tree with my name on them wrapped; at least, a little longer.
When the time comes for the ghosts of Christmas past to declare the tree should go, the unwrapped gifts should come out from under the tree and get put away, and that the bins from the attic need to come down and be re-packed, I feel a bit melancholy. I look at each ornament and decoration fondly as I wrap them back up, carefully, in tissue paper and yellowed newspaper. Christmas seems to come back around faster every year, so it won't be long before we are back to the beginning of the "process" I love. And to appease my sentimentality, I will begin to decorate for Valentine's Day.