Some of our fondest Christmas memories grow out of the most unlikely seasonal situations. It’s fun to talk about mine now, but that was far from the case one holiday season. We’ve all experienced years when it seems impossible to catch the Christmas spirit.
Try as you might, you just can’t feel joyous. It might be because of what’s going on in your life or because there’s not enough money for gifts and glitter. You just can’t find your joy button. This particular year, I’m recently divorced, facing my first Christmas as a single parent, and I have the Christmas blues big time! This is not a good thing for a parent, much less an interior designer whose clients depend on him to decorate for the holidays. Not only do I not have the Christmas spirit, I don’t have the money to buy any. Our holiday plan is that my son Chad, who lives with me, and my daughter Courtney are coming to my place at 1 p.m. on Christmas Day after spending time with their mother. This will be our first Christmas as a separated family.
I am living in an apartment and can not even bring myself to think about decorating for Christmas, even though I know the kids are coming and it needs to be a special time. Our family tradition has been to attend the Christmas Eve service at our church. It is always a happy time, with families dressed up and everyone exchanging greetings and visiting.
I sign up to be an usher at the Christmas Eve service, thinking I can fill my empty night doing something productive. Christmas Eve that year is unusually cold for Houston – 28 degrees, I think. Late in the afternoon I finally decide to go to the grocery store to get one of the Christmas trees I have walked past for the last month and never had the energy to stop and buy. When I arrive at the store about 4 o’clock, a teenager is sweeping up the tree needles on the parking lot. Not a Christmas tree in sight.
“Where are the trees?” I ask. The sweeper says what little was left – mainly sticks – has been sent to Galveston for a landfill. This just escalates my feeling of worthlessness, my sense of failure.
So I head for church with no prospects for finding a Christmas tree and hoping to just blend into the background at the candlelight service. However, when I arrive, I am assigned fire extinguisher duty. It turns out that the fire code requires one person to stand in the front of the church holding a red fire extinguisher during a candlelight service. So much for blending into the background!
There I am, holding this big, red thing and feeling as if the hundreds of people in the sanctuary grasping their candles and singing “Silent Night” are staring at me, and that I have a huge “Loser” sign on my face.
Now this may sound like I’m embellishing the story, but it’s the
absolute truth. When I get home from church, my little dog Stacy is gone. I have lost our dog. OK, it’s almost Christmas, the kids are coming, I have no decorations, and now Stacy is missing. In my mind, I have a picture of this little black dog with her bags packed, thinking “I’m out of here. This guy is a loser. I can’t count on him to feed me, and I’m sick of seeing him mope around.” I guess I was so preoccupied that I let her out and forgot to bring her back inside. And it is 28 degrees. I spend much of the night making and posting signs about my lost dog.
Finally, I go to bed thinking: It’s the night before Christmas and all through the house, no stockings are hung, no tiny lights twinkle, and I am as poor as the proverbial church mouse. God help me! Christmas morning I awake with new hope, and a plan. I decide there will be some hyper-compulsive person who, like me, wants all the decorations out of sight the minute Christmas is over. Or someone who is leaving town and tosses out the tree so he or she wouldn’t have to deal with it upon returning home. That, I reason, means someone is going to throw away a Christmas tree today, before my kids arrive at 1 p.m.
I check the dumpster at 9 a.m., which I think is really a bit early. At 10 a.m. there is still no tree. Then, at 11 o’clock the Christmas tree arrives at the dumpster, fresh, green, with icicles and a stand. I drag the tree inside – it is big – and set it up. It looks a little pathetic with only icicles to dress it up, so I start searching the house for potential decorations.
When you’re fresh out of Christopher Radko ornaments and glorious French ribbon, you have to get creative. I find a ream of white paper, take a sheet and squeeze it in the middle. I realize if you squint, it looks like a big white bow. So I start squeezing sheets of paper and twisting them in the middle and placing these “bows” all over the tree.
Next I try folding the paper into little airplanes, like I did in
elementary school, and placing them on the tree. Then I really get into it. Out comes the scissors, and I am cutting out snowflakes. In no time, I have decorated the whole tree.
The kids arrive; we have Christmas, and I survive it all. I have told this story many times, and no one can believe that I retrieved the Christmas tree from the dumpster. I had always thought of that holiday as the lowest time in my life, but a few years ago Courtney gave me a new perspective.
It’s around Christmas time, and she and I are in the kitchen. She says, “Dad, the other day in school they asked us to share our favorite Christmas memories.”
I am thinking she will say she recalled the times when we were a united family living in a big house and there were lots of presents. Instead, she starts laughing and says, “I told them my most memorable Christmas was the time you took the tree out of the dumpster and decorated it with copy paper. Chad and I laugh about that, and we tell everybody how creative our Dad is.”
Decorating a dumpster tree! It certainly puts things in perspective when I’m flying off to Boston or Moscow to work on a client’s house. That Christmas with the dumpster tree was just what we needed; it released us from this ideal Currier & Ives kind of Christmas we were always trying to have but never quite achieved. Since then we’ve celebrated Christmas in many ways and in different places.
One year we arrived in London on Christmas Eve and decided to decorate a large plant in the apartment where we were staying. Courtney and I found a grocery store still open and bought red and green napkins. We made a red and green paper chain with scissors and a staple gun; then we made little red and green paper angels.
Another time in New York, Chad had just gone to work for Pepsi, so we decorated an entire tree with Pepsi cans. The pull tabs make good hangers. It turned out to be the perfect tree.
Then there was the big splurge at a drug store one Christmas when we were “rolling in dough.” We spent all of $25 on decorations of candy canes, bags of Werther’s Original candies wrapped in gold paper, and a whole package of Big Red Gum. What a festive, yummy tree that was.
We often hear people remembering the tough times as the best times, the ones that bring people together. It seems things are often not quite as bad as you perceived them to be, especially after some time has passed.
And here’s the happy ending: My dog Stacy came home the next day. She had spent Christmas Eve in front of my neighbors’ fireplace with a full tummy!
Merry Christmas everyone!!!!!