Thursday, October 6

[At Christmas, all roads lead home]

It's so weird (and by weird I mean totally common in almost everyone I know) how once October hits, I can't stop thinking about cold weather and Christmas. Despite how I've actually spent my holidays the past several years (last year was practically a Dillard's doozy), my Christmas fantasies (yes, I have them, and no, they're not sexy) always go like this:

Christmas fantasy No. 1: It is actually Thanksgiving Day, but my mom and I crave the spiritual pick-me-up of decorating for Christmas. While my dad and my brother traverse the roof, stringing giant multi-colored bulbs from rusty nails pounded into the structure a decade ago for just such a purpose, my mom and I toil away in the blustery attic, bringing down box after box after box of slightly wilted silk poinsettias and long, matted boughs of silk evergreen needles clinched by bright red velvet bows. The tree is always the pièce de résistance, and once it is safely out of the attic and crowding the hallway, we know the hard work is over, but the tedious work has just begun. We place certain decorations in certain spots every year: The singing wreath on the door beside the garage; the hanging "NOEL" with a bell on the door facing Grandmaw's house; the candy tree atop the den TV; the fiber optic tree and the ceramic tree cookie jar on the island in the kitchen. In the living room, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus stand sentinel beside the tree and make their animatronic movements to a dull mechanic whir. The whole time we're flitting about the house, attaching red bows and splashes of Christmasy color to every mundane piece of furniture, a steady soundtrack of Manheim Steamroller sings throughout the house on the intercom, feeding our festive moods.

Christmas fantasy No. 2: I am in a warm car with my family (the composition shuffles -- my parents, brother, sister, nephews, grandmother, etc.) driving around Henderson, Jack's Creek, Jackson, Parsons, Crump, Saltillo, and Savannah, ogling the Christmas lights. There are a few houses in particular we like to visit where the owners seriously go all out and run the risk of draining each town's power supply. The night is black, crisp, and lit by an iridescent moon and the various strings of light hanging from nearly every structure we see.

Christmas fantasy No. 3: We are at my grandmother's house on Christmas Eve. The whole family. Everyone is smiling and laughing. These are real smiles -- not the fake, empty, holiday smiles we plaster on our faces when we feel overwhelmed. My grandmother is wearing a red Santa hat. Her living room glows a warm yellow and the dining room table is overflowing with the most comforting foods I can think of: Mini barbecued weenies, a tray of vegetables and ranch dressing, country ham, yeast rolls, cheese cubes, crackers, fruitcake, fruit salad, ham rolls, butternut cake, chess squares, and more. There's a modest pile of gifts under the tree, most of them for the only three children left in the family. The second largest grouping is for the matriarch -- Grandmaw -- who took to the helm of the family when Granny died in February. We lounge around the tree, sipping punch and eggnog and laughing at gag gifts and the antics of children who've just been given loud, new toys. I've got my camera, documenting the entire night as best (and blurry) as I can.

The best part about these fantasies is that they're all real, all based on Christmases past and the customs my family has more or less silently agreed to honor every year. Sadly, I don't get to ride around and look at lights with them or help my mom put up the tree every year anymore, but I still think about all that stuff and get warm fuzzies. I've found that the worst part is knowing that the precious traditions I hold so dear will only erode with time and loss. But, as I age, the traditions will also morph into new forms involving a different family makeup. One day, if I'm lucky, I'll be the matriarch in the red Santa hat, going from room to room, picking up wrapping paper my grandchildren have dropped, a glass of punch clutched in one hand and a camera in the other.

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