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The Thanksgiving dishes and autumn decor are finally put away. Holiday chatter has dissipated now that guests have bidden farewell. For the moment, I’m thankful that the onslaught of Black Friday commercials has finally wound down. Wilting chrysanthemums join shriveled pumpkins in the compost.
With December around the corner, my senses shift toward savoring the scent of pine and the sounds of Mannheim Steamroller, Vince Guaraldi, and Nat King Cole. I begin to envision the tree, the twinkling lights, and the joy of making the house feel festive. Overhead, a clatter arises — the rustle of boxes and my husband’s voice ringing down from the attic.
“Honey, do we really need to haul all this crap out every year?”
The red and green plastic bins under the eaves hold a lifetime of holiday history. It began decades ago, when a UPS box appeared on my doorstep just after I was married. Inside was a tangible declaration that my mother deemed me resettled as an adult. As I unpacked the Christmas stocking sewn by my grandmother, childhood memories returned in a flurry. Within the folded layers of colored tissue paper were glimpses of phases, crazes, and remembrances reflected in decorations collected through the years.
“What’s this?” one of my sons asked last year, pulling out a chain of drinking-straw pieces threaded between green cardboard squares.
“I made it in preschool,” I said, beaming. He giggled, unimpressed.
There’s the Holly Hobbie ornament, a piano, a peace symbol, and my favorite, Mr. Jingeling. Few people in my adult life appreciate the bald guy in green from Santa’s workshop, but anyone who grew up in northeast Ohio knows who held the keys to the seventh floor of Halle’s department store in the 1970s.
When our boys were young, the holiday village I set up was overrun by Hot Wheels in traffic jams, the tiny streets clogged with Matchbox police cars and fire trucks. Plastic snow mysteriously blanketed the village school. But in recent years, no snow has fallen; the village sits idle, frozen. Last year no one even noticed that it didn’t appear.
Our youngest is 13, well beyond snow globes and Rudolph. So why haul it all out?
Now it’s mostly for me, still relishing the stories triggered by decorations, the anecdotes only our family knows. Some ornaments, like the Martha’s Vineyard buoy and the bear from Colorado, mark family vacations; others recall sentimental and significant memories such as the new millennium, the 2004 Red Sox victory, and Boston Strong.
Our oldest is nearly 30. Last year I mailed him a box containing the stocking I’d sewn for his first Christmas. Tucked among the ornaments I handed down to him are reflections of the era when the Lion King ruled, Beanie Babies multiplied, and he played the violin.
I still get some groans from my other sons over ornaments linked to their childhoods — a reluctance to admit they ever loved Barney, Thomas, or SpongeBob. But after a few sugar cookies, they trim the tree together, and Christmas magic glows on their faces.
I’ve begun to wonder what will be left after all the kids are grown and gone. Fragile things can adorn the tree, and the village lights can shine on fake snow that never moves. But I don’t look forward to it. After my parents handed down our holiday ornaments, they didn’t bother putting up a tree.
“We’ll enjoy the decorations at your house,” Mom said. She did, and brought along her family stories. The day will come when I’ll let someone else fuss over leveling the tree, untangling the web of lights, and making sure the ornaments are beyond the dogs’ reach. Like my mom, I look forward to sharing the holidays wherever the family gathers. But we aren’t there yet.
“Haul it all out,” I call up to Jim. It’s still our turn, and for now I plan to savor the nostalgia that illuminates our house at Christmas.
Laura Long is a writer in Needham. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.