I can’t remember that my reading glasses are perched on my head, where I parked my car at the commissary, or where I left my cup of coffee, but I have many vivid recollections of my childhood. Especially of the holidays, when I stored detailed memories of the sights, sounds, and aromas of the season, deep in the recesses of my brain.
As I conjure those imprints from decades ago, I can still sense the belly-tingling excitement I felt when December came and our Christmas decorations went up. Big, musty-smelling cardboard boxes would appear in our garage. Then, my father would spend the afternoon unraveling tangled outdoor light cords, trying to find which C9 screw-in bulb was causing the whole string to stay unlit, hanging lights in our painfully prickly Blue Spruces, and cussing.
I definitely remember the cussing.
Inside, my mother retrieved boxes from the basement, and set about decorating the inside of our house. With a Christmas record on the turntable for motivation, my mother adorned every room with holiday decor, singing along with Johnny Mathis, Burl Ives, Andy Williams, and the Carpenters. She also had a record of a big city choir’s rendition of Handel’s “Messiah,” but she saved that one for baking cookies.
By the time my parents’ were finished, our otherwise unremarkable 1950s brick ranch was a veritable wonderland, each room glimmering warmly with all things red, green and gold — and our frozen yard glowing colorfully with those fat C9 bulbs.
Now that I’m married with my own family home, I find that history has repeated itself. As soon as we polish off the leftover turkey, I’m in the basement, rooting for Christmas decor, bouncing along to holiday songs from George Michael, Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Jose Feliciano. Just like my mother, I put a little something in every room, and save Handel’s “Messiah” for baking day.
However, something about my festively bedecked house is vastly different from that of my childhood — the very decorations themselves.
Our advanced 21st Century generation has everything one might need to safely adorn one’s home with holiday cheer — LED lighting that won’t scorch skin or spark a house fire, solar-powered giant candy canes to line sidewalks, battery-operated animated reindeer, compressed-air-filled-plastic snow globes for the yard, shatterproof plastic ornaments for the tree, flameless candles, Christmas laser light shows that project onto the side of the house, unbreakable resin nativity figurines, and a vast array of remote-controlled pre-lit artificial trees.
My memories of childhood do not include these technological advancements in holiday decor. In fact, many of my parents’ most cherished decorations were made of breakable glass, lit with real flames, pulsed with 120 volts of electricity, or were hand-crafted with yarn, dough, felt, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, safety pins, beads, and googly eyes.
No matter how tacky they might seem today, we loved the little cylindrical Santas made of felt-covered toilet paper rolls that sat on window sills. Even though I once got shocked when I stuck my finger into the live light socket of one of our window sill candolier, its charming glow couldn’t be matched. Dentists wouldn’t approve of the nightly Tootsie Rolls tied with yarn to the fabric advent calendar on my bedroom door. Our home-sewn stockings of 1960s floral calico, would be stuffed with treats, trinkets, and of course, Avon bottles. And even if they could have burned our house to the ground, the real candles my mother lit all over the house, gave off a magical, old-world flicker.
As I decorate my house this week, I will think fondly of those decorations of yore.
Like my friend’s Styrofoam egg-carton Christmas tree that I made the mistake of poking fun at when I was a teenager. In a playful act of revenge, her parents wrapped it up and gave it to me as a wedding present ten years later. While I can’t honestly say I was heartbroken when the tree got crushed during one of our military moves, I’ll always long for the simple, home-spun holiday nostalgia that it represented.