In the last 10 years or so, Christmas has been a holiday I avoid as much as possible.
For one thing, as a busy adult with commuting and deadlines among all the holiday social events, decorating almost seems like a waste of time. Why dig up a big box of knickknacks from the bottom of the storage closet just to sprinkle trinkets into every corner that I’ll have put away when I return from spending Christmas elsewhere?
The other issue I struggle with is gift shopping. When 90 percent of my income goes into groceries, bills and debt, how do I find ways to convey to loved ones that they are loved? My girlfriend sews and she is talented when it comes to crafting presents. I don’t have skills like that, and I’m not in third grade anymore, so forget the handmade presents. Shoot, I can’t even give the gift of time equally since my parents and family are so spread out.
Besides, when it comes to the gift-shopping pressure from the commercial sector, I have a strong aversion to the messages bestowed upon us by our corporate culture. So I basically avoid Christmas until it’s time to raise a glass and sit down at the table as it glimmers under the soft light of candelabras.
Well, there are some things I’ve forgotten after doing that for so long, like how fun it is to make a joke of our living room with tacky decorations.
My girlfriend pulled out the Christmas box the other night. We’re only going to be around the house for about 12 days before we see her family in Ohio, but what the heck. Out came the fake silver tree and the shiny green pickle ornament — truly a tacky one among all things tacky, and it is among our favorites.
As an elementary teacher, Mandi receives an endless supply of ornaments as gifts from her students. She also keeps up with an ornament gift exchange with her college friends, so there is no shortage of things to ponder when we dig into the box. Our kitchen counter is now covered with small woodland creatures.
Since our fake tree is only 2 feet tall, it’s tough to find homes for all the decorations. Two of my ornaments currently hang from either end of a curtain rod — an ice-climbing Santa and a bulbous, cartoony frog.
Then out came the lights. It must be a 30-foot cord, because it was hard to find anything big enough to use such a length. I ran them up, across and down the drapes, then around the front of the TV stand, down a tall lamp, along the wall, over the coffee table and spiraled them tightly up the little fake tree. Voila — our condo is now hideously festooned with holiday spirit!
“I’m dreaming … of a tack-y … Christmas,” Mandi crooned as we surveyed our deliberate mess.
It didn’t stop there, either. A 1982 Oak Ridge Boys Christmas cassette tape sang “Happy Birthday Jesus” while Mandi set up a cardboard nativity scene that her grandma gave her in 1987. The nativity scene is remarkably intact. It’s a testament to Mandi’s loving memory of her dead grandma. She also keeps many of the Christmas cards she has received over the years, and sets them around the house.
I laugh, but at the same time I admire the power of such simple traditions despite how silly they appear. Saving holiday cards may not be a direct gift to those who sent them, but keeping them and rereading them every year certainly honors those people. It also reminds me of what my focus should be right now, and it’s not price tags and wrapping paper.
Since I’m leaving my steady job at the newspaper Dec. 18 — which means I won’t be making as much income next year — the gift-shopping thing weighs on my mind these days. I’m already struggling to break even every month, yet Mandi, my parents and many others are warmly supporting me as I pursue a freelance writing career.
So thank you, Mandi, for excavating that box of “useless” stuff. The blinking, multicolored lights have my chin up, looking toward a bright future as we enter the dark depths of winter.
And thank you to everyone else in my life — you often make this typical, flawed person feel like he matters in this otherwise huge and indifferent world.
Merry Christmas to all of you.
— “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of every month. Derek Franz lives in Carbondale and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.