Look for the Good

img_3836My husband and I always put up the artificial Christmas tree in our living room on the weekend after Thanksgiving and we usually leave it up through the first week in January.  That means that each year, the tree is in our living room for at least six weeks.  It’s a beautiful tree, lit with old-fashioned bulb lights (I finally found a few sets that work) and loaded with antique ornaments.  Still, almost every day I find it necessary to make some small adjustment:  an ornament moved to a “better” spot, a green light swapped for a red, a branch tweaked an inch or so to the left.  Because no matter how pretty my Christmas tree may be, whenever I look at it, I somehow manage to see some small imperfection that needs to be “fixed.”

Sadly, my habit of focusing on the negative extends far beyond Christmas decorating.  Sometimes the animal shelter where I volunteer is very full of dogs, and occasionally there are days when we don’t have enough people to get them all out for their daily walk.  And when that happens, I don’t head home from my volunteer shift feeling good about all the dogs that I did help that day.  Instead, I fret about the dogs that I wasn’t able to walk, and often end up feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

The same thing even happens with my blog.  If a particular post gets 200 views and 43 likes, I am usually quite happy with that, at least for a little while.  But then (and I’m almost ashamed to admit this) I often start to wonder just exactly why those other 157 people who viewed my post didn’t like it.  Which is just ridiculous, especially when I remember that when I started my blog I didn’t think I’d ever reach 200 followers, much less write a post that had that many views.

Of course I am very aware of all that is positive, beautiful and good in my life, and I do appreciate it.  I really do.  It’s just that I have this annoying habit of paying far too much attention to the things that aren’t going right, to the goals that I’m not able to accomplish, and to all those minor imperfections that are a normal part of everyone’s life.  And I really, really, want to stop doing that.

My husband and I just spent an unhappy couple of hours stringing some mini lights on the real Christmas tree that we put up in our basement family room.  We decided to try mini lights this year because they stay cool and are light-weight enough for this tree’s delicate branches, but I found them hard to work with because they don’t have clips to hold them in place.  We also had to replace an insanely tiny fuse and run back to the store for another strand.  Soon, we will hang the ornaments, and if I win the argument with my husband this year, we might even add some tinsel.

I am quite sure that the finished result won’t be perfect.  But I am equally sure that when we are done decorating this tree, it will be beautiful.  And I have made a solemn promise to myself that when I look at that tree, all I am going to notice is the beauty.  It may seem like a small thing, but I’ve got to start somewhere.

Light It Up

IMG_0948As far as I’m concerned, the very second Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas season begins.  Within hours of clearing away the Thanksgiving dinner table and dividing up the left over turkey among my family, I am already planning my Christmas decorations for this year.  Others may spend Black Friday battling the crowds at the malls and big box stores for bargains, but I spend the day after Thanksgiving getting my house ready for Christmas.   I drag out my boxes of Christmas decorations while my husband assembles the tree in our living room in preparation for our annual tree trimming, which is always done while drinking champagne and listening to Nat King Cole.  Before the weekend is over, both my house and the tree are usually fully decorated.

Until this year, that is.  This year, things went terribly wrong.

We couldn’t find the lights for our Christmas tree.  We spent hours searching every box in the basement and every closet in the house before we came to the sad conclusion that we must have thrown them out when we took the tree down last year, because we were worried that they were getting too hot to be safe.  We decorate our tree with antique Christmas ornaments and like to string old-fashioned ceramic bulbs to go with them, but sometimes those bulbs can get very hot and then we worry about them being a fire hazard.  So we headed to the stores in hopes of finding some new ceramic lights that we could safely string on our tree.

But old-fashioned ceramic lights turned out to be very difficult to find.  The store shelves are full of the new LED lights, in an amazing array of colors and shapes.  If I wanted lights that shifted from colored to white and then back to colored again in less than five seconds, they had them.  If I wanted strings of miniature lights, flashing lights, lights that were shaped like Mickey Mouse’s ears, they had them.  They even had strings of somewhat normal shaped bulbs, but they included pink, yellow and purple lights, and Christmas lights were never meant to come in those colors.  That’s just a sin against God and country, as far as I’m concerned.

Finally, I found a string of old-fashioned C-7 sized bulbs in normal Christmas colors, so I bought three packages.  Then I spotted some LED lights, also in normal colors and only slightly larger bulbs than I’m used to, so I bought some of those as well, as a back-up.  But when I got home, I discovered that the old-fashioned lights became hot enough to burn my fingers within minutes of plugging them in, so I decided to suck it up and venture into new territory by stringing the LED lights on the tree.  It took me two hours and five strings, but I finally got them all on.

And my husband and I actually thought they didn’t look too bad, until we made the mistake of turning off the rest of the living room lights to bask in the glow of our Christmas tree lights.  Because there wasn’t any glow to bask in.  LED lights may be bright and look pretty on the tree, but they throw out no light at all.  None.  And what’s the point of having a lighted Christmas tree if you can’t sit in the living room on a cold December night, with nothing on but the tree lights and a fire in the fireplace, and enjoy the soft, cozy glow?

So, tonight we went back to the store, and found some “cool light” C-7 bulbs that look old-fashioned enough to show off our antique ornaments and bathe our living room in a Christmas glow without threatening to burn the house down.  I’m going to put them on the tree tomorrow, and hope that they work out.  Because if they don’t, I’m going to be spending the next few days searching for lights that do work out, and time is not on my side.  But no one ever said the quest for holiday perfection was an easy one.

Changing Traditions

Holly Hills ChristmasWhen I was a child, I was taught that there was only one correct way to decorate a Christmas tree.  We always got a real tree, and it had to be a fir and it could not be put up before December 10th.  We used the big, old-fashioned colored lights and we always put a white light at the top of the tree, and the ornaments were hung according to size, starting with the littlest at the very top of the tree and ending with the largest at the very bottom.  We used mostly glass ornaments, but a few homemade ones were also acceptable.  Finally, we covered the tree with tinsel (the old fashioned aluminum kind which I’m pretty sure contained lead), and that was hung with exactly one strand per branch, starting with the top of the tree and working down.  Of course I saw trees that were decorated differently at my friends’ houses, but secretly, I always thought those trees weren’t quite “right.”

DSC00087Then I married a man who had grown up with pine Christmas trees, often flocked (sprayed with fake snow, for those who aren’t old enough to remember).  He also hated tinsel and thought that mini lights looked best, even though they had pink bulbs along with the traditional red, blue, green and white ones.  I thought it was borderline sacrilegious to put pink bulbs on a Christmas tree, and as far as I was concerned, pine trees didn’t smell like Christmas.  Compromise was slow, but inevitable, and eventually I stopped hanging ornaments by size, bought an artificial tree so it could go up shortly after Thanksgiving, and gave up on the need for tinsel.  I still cling to my old-fashioned lights and glass ornaments, and no tree of mine has ever been “flocked.”  We now have trees (two: a real tree in the basement and an artificial tree in the living room) that we both like.

I remember being a bit annoyed with my husband when he first questioned the Christmas tree decorating rules I had been raised with, and for many years I insisted on adding plastic tinsel to our trees, even knowing how much he disliked it.  (The living room windows in our first apartment were so drafty that the tinsel on our tree was usually swaying in the breeze, which I thought just added to the charm.)  For me, Christmas was all about tradition, and I wanted to stick with the traditions I knew best, even when they didn’t really work anymore.  It took a long time before I realized that traditions are important, but they aren’t nearly as  important as making the people you love happy and doing what works best in the here and now.

Over the years, husband and I have learned to compromise on nearly all of our holiday traditions.  When we were married but childless, we drove over 500 miles each Christmas to make sure we spent  Christmas Eve and Christmas day with our parents and extended families.  When the kids came along, that didn’t work anymore, and we began to stay home for Christmas morning. Now our kids are adults, one married and one engaged, and our Christmas celebrations continue to change as we figure out what works best for everybody each year.  And that’s as it should be.

I will always be a fan of holiday traditions, but I no longer make the mistake of thinking that keeping those traditions are the most important thing.  My Christmas trees may not look exactly like the ones in my childhood, but I still think they are beautiful.  And my family may celebrate Christmas a bit differently each year, but we still have a wonderful time together.  The best traditions, I think, are the ones that are flexible enough to include everybody.

That being said, I’m still not ever going to have pink lights on my Christmas tree.  There’s such a thing as too much compromise.