I was the last child of three. And with each Christmas, my older siblings’ interests in the holiday waned. My mother, too, seemed to care a little less about all the preparations each year. So, in the void they left behind, I saw an opportunity. My authority — and autonomy — over decorating the house grew as they relinquished theirs.
Night comes early in late December. And, as a kid, that suited me just fine.
When night came, I’d plug in the plastic candles that sat on the windowsills of our apartment, turn off the rest of the lights in the living room and plug in the tree. Then I’d sit quietly in the shadows — or space permitting, lie directly under the tree — and stare at the play of the twinkle lights on the glass ornaments and slivered plastic icicles … well, until someone demanded to know why the hell all the lights were off and I was sitting like an idiot in the dark. But even then, my mother would have to pause for a moment before telling me to turn on a lamp. And she’d take that opportunity to comment:
“I know I say this every year, but that’s the most beautiful tree we’ve ever had.”
Through the magic of plastic extrusion technology, it was, in fact, the very same tree we’d had for several years running. But that didn’t matter. It was beautiful. And the light it shed was the perfect counterpoint to the early darkness. In the warmth of its glow I could release my fantasies into the room around me. But my fascination with the tree wasn’t limited to the hours after sunset.
I was a solitary kid and, outside of school, I spent most of my time by myself. I filled my afternoons and evenings with the stories I’d spin around my toys or the characters I discovered in comic books and on television. It sounds a bit lonely, but I found it very satisfying. And something about our Christmas decorations stoked the fires of my vocation.
As I’d unpack those familiar items each year, it was like greeting old friends. Sure, most of the ornaments were just silvered glass balls tarted up with various kinds of tinsel or paint. But many — usually the cheapest ones — took more specific forms, like those of misshapen fabric elves or animals. And there were the dozens of other tchotchkes my mother had purchased over the years, too: santa and snowman window shade pulls; the ceramic elf candle holders which contorted their little holly-covered bodies to spell out the word “noel.” One of my favorites was an old wooden sleigh that she’d pack with a Santa-shaped candle and as many miniature candy canes as would fit. Then she’d tie it to a stuffed reindeer with a yard of red curling ribbon and place it proudly by the front door.
These weren’t just decorations. They were toys charged with that special energy that I attached to all things Christmas. And they slid seamlessly into the stories I’d spin over the few hours between the time I got home from school and the time my mother got home from work.
G.I. Joe could scale the tree to rescue the elf ornaments hanging helplessly by the points on their hats. My plastic Creature from the Black Lagoon could join Santa in that sleigh as it flew from the living room, into my bedroom, and back.
In my mind, this Christmas time of year changed the stories of everyone it touched. It engulfed us all in one big narrative of goodwill and twinkle lights. So it made perfect sense that the Creature would accompany Santa, that G.I. Joe would befriend those weird little elf ornaments, and that we’d all sing along with Perry Como as his voice blasted from our portable stereo. We all embodied that Holiday Spirit as it infected each one of us and we passed it along to those we touched. That was what made Christmas so different from the rest of year; it’s what made it so painfully wonderful.
In a fit of nostalgia for those flying sleigh rides around the apartment, I decided to recreate some of those Holiday Spirits. And now you get the chance to experience them for yourself. Just click on the big, shiny button below to get started.