A New One Just Begun

img_2834Taking down the decorations is my least favorite part of Christmas.  When I was a child, we always took down our tree on New Year’s Day mostly because it was always a real tree and beginning to dry out by then.  When I grew up and began decorating my own Christmas trees, I left them up a little bit longer, especially once we made the shift to putting an artificial Christmas tree in our living room.  These days I don’t take my decorations down until after Epiphany (January 6), and sometimes not even then.  The truth is, I’m never really ready to “undecorate” the house.

But eventually even I have to admit that it’s time to take everything down, and so I drag my boxes and cartons out of the basement and begin the long and tedious process of packing all my ornaments and decorations away for another year.  Somewhere along the line, I quit feeling sorry for myself and focus much more on making sure everything is properly wrapped, in the correct box, and clearly labeled.  (My obsessive need for neatness comes in handy sometimes.)

Even though our house always looks just a little bit naked those first few days without holiday decorations scattered so liberally about, there is always a part of me that likes what I see.  The undecorated house reminds me of a blank canvas, and I start to think about different colored throw pillows, or perhaps a new set of shelves to store my ever-growing collection of photo albums.  New things seem possible now that the clutter of Christmas has been cleared away, and I find it much easier to envision some positive changes for my home.

And once my Christmas decorations are put away, I know that the holiday season is officially over and that it is time to look forward into the new year.  I’m not a person who easily embraces change, but I never want to be a person who fears it.  The new year helps remind me that sometimes change is both necessary and good.  The new year can be a symbol of a “clean slate” that allows me to leave behind the clutter in my life that isn’t doing me or anyone else any good, and gives me a chance to make some of the changes that will move me toward a life that is happier and more full of purpose.

And of course, it helps to remember that in only eleven short months I’ll be able to decorate my house for Christmas all over again….

A Change of Season

fullsizeoutput_4c9dAutumn has never been my favorite season, but for some reason, this year is different.  This year I’m actually enjoying Autumn.  Maybe it’s because we finally got a Fall with a lot of beautiful color on the trees, or maybe it’s because we enjoyed a spell of perfect Autumn weather with warm days and cool nights.  It might be that Halloween is fun again, now that I have a grandson among the trick-or-treaters.  (He may not be able to walk on his own yet, but he still looked adorable in his penguin costume.)  It could even be that my mother and sister are hosting the Thanksgiving dinner this year, which spares me the cleaning and shopping frenzy that usually defines my early November.

IMG_4023All I know is that I feel a new appreciation for Autumn, even now that the weather has turned cold and rainy.  I loved baking my first pumpkin pie of the season and have decorated my front porch with pumpkins.  I didn’t even mind packing away the last of my summer clothes and switching them out for the warmer clothes I’ll be needing in the upcoming months.

Perhaps I’m finally learning to live in the moment, and appreciate what I have right now rather than impatiently waiting for something better.  I suppose one sign of maturity is realizing that life is never going to be entirely (or even mostly) perfect, and that if I want to be happy, I need to learn to be happy with the messy imperfections that always make up the here and now.  I need to look around me at what I do have and be grateful for it.  And when I see a problem that needs to be fixed, I have to be willing to work hard to change what I can and also accept that sometimes my best efforts won’t be good enough.

Maybe I’m beginning to appreciate Autumn because I am, at age sixty, in the Autumn of my own life.  And while I have lost much of the strength and vigor of my youth, I am also beginning to understand the gifts that this season of my life brings.  It’s nice to reach the stage where I’m truly beginning to accept (and even like) who I am, especially because that makes it so much easier to accept other people exactly as they are.  Sometimes I do miss having young children at home, but I also enjoy the peacefulness  that an “empty nest” brings.  And it’s rewarding to get to know my son and daughter as independent adults who are happily making their own way in life.

When I was young, I never cared much for Fall.  I missed the warmth and freedom of summer, and was impatient for the Christmas season to begin.  But now I see that there’s a real beauty in this time and I’m more than happy to savor the many gifts of this season.  Winter will be here soon enough, but that’s okay….for now, I’m just happy to enjoy Autumn.

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.