Saturday, December 20, 2014

Holiday Things

Unpacking and putting up my holiday things was different this year. Two years ago before I divorced, there were roughly five paper boxes worth of ornaments and decorations. This year there is a medium sized silver bowl of ancient glass balls I've bought over the years from various thrifts: I like the ones where the silvering is unpeeling from the insides and the colors are getting soft and strange like shot silk. Next to it is one old red bell from my family's tree with "Noel" stamped on the side and a soft tinkle. They're quietly resting on one of my roommate's Christmas-theme-printed tablecloths on the sideboard.

Festooned above the sliding glass door there are fresh evergreen swaths and a wreath, a gift to me from one of my roommates who knows I like live boughs. Some meandering garnet-red wire and bead festoons were temporarily on my bed's headboard, and now laid over the evergreens for color.  
They've decorated the tree with Hello Kitty figures, Star Wars ephemera, some 60's ornaments
from someone's mom and the rest of the spaces filled in with new inexpensive but heavily glitter-encrusted balls, which make it look quite gaudy and cheerful and looks fantastic from the street. They strung up some blue lights in the front window and hung a few more wreaths outside, and I contributed some small sock monkeys to one, for fun. I didn't finish the stockings they  wanted to hang over the fireplace; I kept forgetting to pack them in to my purse do the finishing details during travel. I started ones for them but didn't want one for myself.

In my room I have a small box of vintage wrapping paper. I didn't use any of it; nobody I was giving a gift to (I only had a couple to give) would see it or care. I have the "Holliday (sic) Monkey" book that Mihai made me one Christmas, which tells the tale of a melancholy sock monkey who discovers his quiet place in the festivities is welcome after all. It's illustrated with pictures of the toys I made us, and meant to show that my level of participation is not necessarily judged harshly.

Unused paper, a book which pains me as much as it once gave me joy. A bowl of glass balls other people would probably throw away. A bell. Some fresh greens. The rest I see but feel no sentiment or attachment toward.

We're spending the actual holidays at one of my roommate's mom's. Her house is filled with Christmas-themed ephemera, Christmas music, Christmas traditional foods. It's reminding me of a hoarder's house I once cleaned where the lady had used bright reds and greens in all her furniture and such and never took down her artificial tree or ornaments. It was the filthiest, most horrific place I ever worked in. That lady WANTED her house to look like this one: full of light and festivity. She wanted to feel the spirit of Christmas all year. I sometimes wonder if the burden of that desire was what sent her over the edge into saving virtually everything that entered the house; that wanting to be Christmas-level happy and Christmas-level decorated was a tipping point that plunged her into a kind of madness. Every piece of brightly colored junk mail or jar from apple sauce was saved as preciously as though it were a present in itself. Underneath it all was the skeleton of a dead Christmas long past.

Yet, apart from the "madness" of it, look at the basic idea: that we might be grateful for the everyday object, that it might give us as much joy as the most expensive treat. It has a kind of Martha Stewart or Real Simple sort of pleasant thrifty sound to it, doesn't it? How do we maneuver from that into unmanageable, even horrific clutter - and how can we move back again with a sense of objectivity? How do we learn to de-classify the objects? How are "holiday" objects different? Why do we keep what we do?

Sentimentality varies from person to person. But sentimentality quickly becomes a habit; I see an object I used to be sentimental about, and my mind automatically sticks it in the sentimental box of keepers. I might need it later, I might need that memory some day, I might regret giving it away. It is true. Life is filled with uncertainty, and we have to accept that we will make mistakes with our keeping and letting go. We will have regrets.

This year I gave away all the holiday decorations I had in common with my ex husband. I cried, and I had to have someone else bring them down to the thrift so I wouldn't see it tossed into the bin with the other incoming knickknacks. Having worked at the thrift I know the anxiety of the limbo between my donation and the unknown life ahead of it. But I'm confident they were fingered by the right thoughtful person and brought home as treasures. That's my suspension of cynicism: my leap of faith. I do it because I need hope and happiness in *my* life, and the only person that can create that is me, through my mindfulness of what I truly need and want and my careful generosity.

I hope you have time during the holidays to contemplate your own traditions, your own decorations, your own mysterious memories. Which ones are you ready to replace? Which ones could give someone else joy? Can this memory be sent lovingly back into the dark stream that carries my thwarted dreams and desires through the underworld, and resurface clean and clear to refresh me (or someone else) with optimism tempered by experience? I'm ready for the countdown to the New Year. I hope you are, too.

(I kept the book. I still need the book.)

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