I submitted the following entry to a Holiday Writing Contest on January 2, 2013:
I didn’t exactly have the Christmas spirit as I began to decorate for Christmas. It seemed like every year some virus would attack me just as it was time to begin the process. I was feeling sorry for myself. To make matters worse, I had no help decorating as usual. I didn’t blame my husband as he was busy working his second job to support us. It was the kids I was irritated with because they always seemed to be “otherwise engaged” when their help was needed.
Years earlier when we purchased our home, I set about slowly collecting Christmas decorations. We made decorations for the inside, and each year I added one or two sets of Christmas lights for the outside. The children’s school Christmas artwork was saved each year to be carefully placed on the walls of our home for the holidays. Four children can produce a lot of Santas, reindeer, snowmen, and Christmas trees in just a few holiday seasons, and it was all saved from year to year—making the chore of displaying it bigger each time. My family loved the house all decked out for the holidays, so I continued to make it more grand each Christmas. The Christmas tree was always placed in front of the window so it could be seen from outside, eclectically decorated, including popcorn and cranberry strings.
At the height of my inner self grumbling, I finished up inside and moved outside to put up the lights. It was bitter cold and starting to get dark, which only added to my sour disposition. I was grateful for the coffee mug hooks that I’d placed in the eaves many years earlier. I carefully taped my two-pronged meat fork to the end of the yardstick, and placed tape on the fork allowing for only about 1/4 inch of fork to show. Then the fork was lifted to the eaves via the yardstick to gently place the lights on the hooks so that I wouldn’t have to climb a ladder.
As I turned around to pick up the next set of lights, I caught a glimpse of a child across the street watching me from the window. The family was new to the neighborhood, and I didn’t know anything about them other than they didn’t speak much English. In a matter of minutes, there were several sets of lights on the front of my home, on the railing, and over the bushes. I reached for the purple lights to run up the branches of the orange tree and realized that the entire family across the street was my audience. Little faces with dancing eyes gleefully watched as purple lights suddenly climbed the orange tree—and my mood seemed to shift as I watched them watch me.
Five sets of purple lights on those branches, and the tree looked truly magical! To top it off, I brought out a large set of clear “moving” lights for the top of the tree. There was no way to stand safely on a ladder in the mud, and since I barely stand five feet tall, I literally threw the lights up into the branches. With each toss, little heads bobbed, and I could hear squeals through the window. I chuckled to myself that this family should receive such delight in this silly process.
Later I learned from my youngest daughter (who was learning a little Spanish from the kids and teaching them a little English) why my lights caused such exuberance. The family came from a very poor part of Mexico, and none of them had ever seen Christmas lights until that night. A couple of days later, my daughter invited the children inside to see the Santa village, the nativity sets, and everything else that makes Christmas special at our house.
Since that night, I look at decorating my home differently. My children are grown now, and I don’t know how many more years my bad back and ankles will allow this process to continue. Each year as I consider tapering off the amount of decorating, I see little gleeful faces from long ago. Then I consider the demographics of my neighborhood, which has traditionally been the start-up neighborhood for new immigrants from many parts of the world. We’ve had Vietnamese families, Hmong families, Russian families, Mexican families, and many others. Maybe the Christmas decorations are my way of saying, “Welcome to the neighborhood, and welcome to the United States of America.” I hope so.