Megan Ritchie Jooste
is a Colorado writer who is missing Christmas in Philadelphia
We've been celebrating the holiday season for a solid two months in my household. It all began at some vague point in time around late September, when a Curious George Christmas movie popped up among the "you might enjoy" selections on our Netflix home page. (Giving our 2-year-old full rein of the remote has wreaked havoc on our preferences.)
"It's Christmas!" our daughter shrieked, throwing herself off the sofa and at the television set. "It's Christmastime! It's Christmas!"
My husband and I glanced at each other, shrugged, and pressed play. Within seconds she was transfixed. We've watched it, at least in part, almost every day since. Yes, we indulge her. Because we realize what this means - it means she remembers.
Last year marked her second Christmas, and her first one ever so slightly aware of the magic around her. We wanted her to experience it all. For a solid four weeks, we took in Philadelphia, awash with light. We strolled through Christmas Village at LOVE Park. We stopped in Liberty Place to scamper around the giant tree in the atrium, and we sat on bales of hay at Winterfest to watch the skaters dig their blades into the riverside rink. We toured Dickens Village multiple times. My husband and I cheered as my daughter sat - hesitantly - on a smattering of Santas' laps. We took in the Macy's Light Show from the base of the eagle, as I had as a child.
We really have no idea what our children will remember, and what is destined to the abyss of their subconscious. We figured our best bet was to absolutely . . . douse her with yuletide gaiety. It seems that our efforts had paid off - one glimpse of a wreath-adorned cartoon monkey and something inside her clicked. I nearly wept.
We waited patiently until both Halloween and Thanksgiving had just about passed, and decked the halls with absolutely everything within reach. We bought a 7-foot tree and spent an entire day burdening its boughs with handmade ornaments collected over decades. I made a holiday bouquet of silk mistletoe and plastic pine branches and crafted a seasonal centerpiece that would make Martha's lip quiver. Stockings were hung, garland was strung, and two pumpkin pies were made in one day.
My husband's decorative passions lay, for the most part, outdoors. This year, all he wanted was a Star Shower Laser Light - as seen on TV. Perhaps you've seen the infomercial. You stick it in your garden a few dozen feet from your house, and out shoot thousands of tiny red and green pinpoints of light, like a giant case of chicken pox strewed all over your facade. It wasn't my cup of tea, but Christmas is about sharing, and marriage is about compromise. Far be it from me to get in the way between him and his Griswold dream.
Thanksgiving evening, as soon as the sun went down, we ignited the lights for their inaugural show. I cringed. Out spilled dozens of spots that covered not only the front of our home, but also part of our neighbor's. We live in a townhouse; we share a wall, the occasional bump in the night, and now, a questionably tasteful Christmas display. I was immediately transported back to a Christmas past - my first as a bride.
Shortly after our honeymoon, my husband and I settled into a cozy carriage house in Haddonfield. It sat at the end of a long gravel driveway, tucked behind the massive Victorian inhabited by our landlords and their gaggle of blond offspring. It was a magical place. In the summer, clematis grew up the walls. We planted our first garden, and had picnics in our backyard. That Christmas, we bought a 10-foot tree, and moved our mattress into the giant, lofted main room so we could sleep under its twinkling lights. I set out the nativity set my grandmother had gifted me over the course of a decade, one piece each year, and I amassed scented pinecones in bowls throughout the house. I was ecstatic to share the season with my new spouse.
I was dismayed, however, when we returned home one day to find every window of our rented abode almost entirely concealed by giant plastic wreaths. "There goes the Y in my DIY this year," I lamented to my husband. Was there some "Christmas Clause" in the fine print of our rental agreement we had missed, granting our landlord seasonal dominion over our living space?
We stood in our bedroom, massive wreath-shaped shadows juxtaposed like some avant-garde art installation all over our walls. Under protest, my landlady removed them a few days after. Yet I felt a pang of regret that evening when we pulled into the driveway to find them gone. Our little house suddenly looked a tad smaller, even sadder in comparison with the jubilant Victorian that sat in front of it, dripping with white lights and garland. But the principle was what mattered, I assured myself. The windows were ours, per contract.
I now stood on our new patio, staring at the pox we had inadvertently flung upon our neighbor's house.
In the yuletide season of the superfluous that can feverishly claim our better judgment, perhaps it's not uncommon to take our spirit of sharing a bit too far. Cue my landlady: perched on a 15-foot ladder outside our carriage-house window with a hammer and unearthly hyperproductive glow. Fast-forward to us, zealously winding multicolored lights around window frames and banisters, setting out a giant inflatable Santa on the patio, and dispatching countless tiny lights into our neighbor's second-story windows.
If my neighbors should take offense with our shared display, I shall immediately apologize. What's more - I will pen a note on my newly acquired Santa stationery, and wheel over a few dozen hand-decorated sugary mea culpas. That ought to do it. I may even angle the laser beam down a few degrees. In the spirit of the holidays.