In case you missed it, Christmas began last month.
I was caught off guard. It was still over 100 degrees outside when I dove into Costco and saw a wall of fake trees and highly electrified ornaments.
By my calculations, there were still 115 shopping-days until Christmas.
My mother, if she were still here, would have plenty to say about this. She bristled that stores promoted Christmas before Thanksgiving. She knew that when the decorations went up, the fussing began.
“Can you believe it?” she’d shake her head. “It’s not even December and they’ve already frosted their windows!” She didn’t hesitate to voice her dissatisfaction to management, but year after year the Christmas kickoff inched up another day or so.
I expect my grandchildren will see it begin on the 4th of July.
But Mom fought back against creeping commercialism. She established a tradition—we made new decorations each year. This kept us out of department stores.
And it worked… for a while. Crafting ornaments was fun in our grade-school years. I remember making Play-Dough Christmas bells, an aluminum-foil star, and popsicle-stick reindeers.
All good. But this quaint custom bogged down when we reached middle-school, the age of awkwardness. Mom had a hard time selling her hand-made Christmas. Our ornament tradition devolved into a game of “catch-me-if-you-can.”
It worked like this.
Mom would gather all the project’s supplies, spread them out, and hope we’d get into the spirit… or at least take a hint.
But the stuff just would just sit there in the front room, next to the naked tree.
So she’d break out her holiday albums and crank up the old Magnavox. She believed that the ghost of Bing Crosby crooning “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” or Dean Martin belting out “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” would tempt us to sit down and be her little elves.
Next, she tried baking double-chocolate-chip cookies as bait, putting them next to the decorations-in-waiting. But we’d just grab the goodies as we scooted past the table.
And did how many ornaments did her three children make?
Zip, Zero, and Zilch.
So Mom’s dreams of an “old-fashioned, handmade Christmas” hit some heavy sledding with her aging, lazy-Mazy children. But she took a long time to give up, and I clearly remember the last assembly line she organized before finally throwing in the towel.
It was during the waning moments of 12 days of Christmas. I think Santa had already left the North Pole, but as far as ornament-making… not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Rather than dangle sugar-plums over our heads, though, Mom took the direct approach. Humming “You’d Better Not Cry; You’d Better Not Pout,” she dropped all subtly, rounded us up, and practically lashed us into our chairs. She covered the table with newspaper, and plunked down a passel of paste pots.
Next she ripped opened the untouched packages of Styrofoam balls—scores of them—in all sizes.
Finally she unfolded bolts of festive, holiday-themed fabric.
The idea was simple, and her instructions clear: Cut out the cute designs, glue them artfully to the balls, and hang these one-of-a-kind treasures on our tree.
My sister, the youngest, dutifully sat down and began. Hers were works of wonder. She’d trim each piece so it fit perfectly against the piece next to it. Sis even glued rick-rack on the seams. She approached her work with the dedication of a monk cloistered in an ancient monastery, but instead of copying the Bible by hand, she was producing family heirlooms.
It was a tough act to follow.
My brother looked at me, at the piles of supplies, and shook his head. His lower lip hung out.
And we shared a moment of brotherly telepathy….
This could take all day, he thought.
No-way Jose’, I thought back at him.
We nodded at one another in unison.
So we tore into the project, as Dad would say, like we were killing snakes. What we lacked in quality we were going to make up for in quantity.
Our goal was to make those balls disappear.
I began slapping gobs of glue on the Styrofoam, and rolling it into random fabric scraps left behind by my sister. This created an ornament that looked like tiny hat suitable for Carmen Miranda.
Weird? You bet. But, hey, it met my Mom’s specifications.
The problem is that this method worked for one or two ornaments, and then the fabric began sticking to everything BUT the ball. It clung to my hands and arms. When I tried to flick it off my body, the scraps then affixed themselves to my shirt and pants. Still I pressed on, accumulating a small pile of ornament-like objects.
Then I then noticed that they had glued themselves to the newspaper. I peeled them loose, but shredded bits of the Metro section, complete with car crashes and obituaries, adored my ornaments.
I looked around, to see how my brother was faring.
But he was gone. All that remained of him was a single, half-completed ball. He’d excused himself to go the bathroom, and then fled for the hills. I sized up the situation, and prepared to make my escape, too.
But Mom had positioned herself between the table and the only exit.
“Going somewhere,” she asked. Her mouth was formed into a smile, but her arms were crossed in what we called the no-nonsense position.
I was trapped. So I pondered my options.
“How many do you want?” I asked, pointing at pile of untouched orbs.
She looked at me and narrowed her eyes.
“They’re this year’s ornaments,” she said, “unless you want me to bring down the old one.”
This was a serious threat. If I balked, it would mean all our dorky doodads, including fossilized baby-handprints in plaster-of-Paris would be exhumed and hung on the tree.
This was blackmail, and she knew it. I couldn’t invite my friends over—until the tree went down on January 1. There was no way I’d let them see THAT EMBARRASSING STUFF. I pondered this dilemma and wondered if there was a way out.
And then I had an idea.
I sat back down and smiled.
“Sure, Mom. But can I use the art supplies?” I asked. “This fabric is sticky.”
“Your sister is doing just fine, and…” she held up my brother’s half-finished ornament, “your brother’s off to a good start.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but I can’t.”
“Really?” Mom asked.
I held up a half-dozen misshapen, shaggy spheres. “See?”
She chewed on her lip, and looked back at my sister’s pristine creations. I could see her resolve fading.
“It’s boring to have them all look the same.”
“I don’t know.”
“Pleeeaaaseeee?” I begged. “Mine will look cool.”
Finally, Mom shook her head and sighed. “OK. But you’ll have to work in the garage. I don’t want that all stuff in here.”
I was up and out the door faster than you could say “Santa Claus.”
“And sweep up your mess,” she called after me.
The garage held our art-stuff, a huge box crammed to overflowing with construction paper, crayons, stencils, yarn, and more. It had the cast-off remains of string, spangles and spray-glue.
But best of all… it had glitter.
My plan was to glue glitter and spangles on the little spheres and call it good. My ornaments would look like psychedelic snowballs
But then I looked across the garage and saw Dad’s collection of spray paint—dozens and dozens of cans just begging to be used.
Wow, I thought. Wouldn’t COLORED ornaments be great? Why use plain glue when glitter will stick to the paint? BRILLIANT!
So I separated the balls into several piles, and then I began dousing them with paint. Gold, red, green, orange and blue, an acrylic rainbow took shape on the floor.
Next I filled a big paper bag with glitter and dumped in all the still-wet balls. Finally, I jumped, gyrated and jiggled that sack like a shake-and-bake chicken.
PRESTO… instant decorations. The whole thing done in less than 10 minutes.
I’m a genius. I thought.
Full of pride, I went back inside to tell Mom.
“Problem?” she asked.
“Nope. I’m done.”
“Really?” Her jaw dropped. “What did you do?”
“Come look,” I said. “It’s a surprise.”
So she did.
And we both got a surprise.
The Styrofoam had melted and fused into a huge, blob-like mass.
“This is it?” Mom asked.
“Uh…” I looked at them in horror. “They were OK a minute ago.”
Just then, Mom got a whiff of all the fumes.
“Whew,” she said. Then she turned and took my arm.
She hit the garage door opener.
“You’ll clean this up later.”
She marched me inside, and I waited until she deemed it safe to clean up my mess. We tossed all those stinky, sticky, Styrofoam balls.
Then she made me fetch our old ornaments and put them on the tree.
That was the last time she tried to force anyone to make ornaments. Now that I think back on it, it’s kind of sad. Still, while neither of us got quite what we’d bargained for, we did both receive a valuable “object lesson.”
I learned to live with our goofy, baby-stuff on the tree, and Mom found she shouldn’t wait until the last moment to get new Christmas decorations.
Start your Christmas in September? Maybe Costco has the right idea after all.