You start in earnest right after the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Once you see Santa arrive the season officially begins.
Of course, you were forced to start in September when the stores began mixing Christmas decorations in with the Back-to-School supplies. In October, you complained about the shining bulbs next to the Jack-o-Lanterns, red, blinking Rudolph noses in the same bin as green, warty witch beaks. November required that you stick your fingers in your ears as “Jingle Bells” clanged in your head and “Twas the Night Before Christmas” saw sixty sunsets.
Once you digest your turkey and purge all of that pumpkin pie, your good humor returns. Black Friday holds no shopping excitement for you. Instead, you have permission to sing hymns and carols at the top of your lungs. Your Christmas playlist is set on a loop, the same songs, sung by different artists, repeat repeatedly, but now they make you happy instead of making you want to barf.
You bring out the seventeen plastic bins containing all of the items that make the holiday special. You find the reindeer mantel hooks, place them on the ledge in the kitchen and attached the personalized stockings: the Grinch, Pink Princess, Mickey Mouse and the green, sequinned butterfly. The white ceramic angels, singing and playing instruments that you inherited from your mother and that made their appearances in your life every year of your life, get hidden a bit so they don’t get accidentally knocked over and broken.
The tree doesn’t get put up until the third Sunday of Advent. It really shouldn’t be until Christmas Eve morning but that’s too radically different from what everyone else is doing, so you bend a bit. You have also caved when it comes to live versus artificial. Falling needles make too much of a mess - you can never remember to put water in the stand so real trees dry out too quickly. Plus, spending all day searching for the perfect tree in lawn and garden store lots was never much fun for you. Some traditions deserve to die.
Each ornament you take from the boxes remind you of something. Decorating the tree takes you all day long. You have to find the perfect branch to put each on. You step back, assess, move, repeat. You take a break, have a hot chocolate (with a touch of liqueur because you’re an adult now and you can) then finish up with the little strawberries your mother gave you when you were in college. You spend the rest of the night, clicker in hand, flicking the tree lights on and off. You like the white fairy lights.
The manager goes under the tree. You plug the bulb that represents The Star into the tree lights. Mary and Joseph and the Angel Gabriel kneel around the empty crib, waiting, like you until the Baby Jesus miraculously arrives. Baby Jesus gets hidden in a cabinet until the bell rings. (Did you know bells ring when babies are born?) You put the cow, donkey and sheep in their stalls and you line up the three Wise Men from East to West. You place the shepherds randomly, so they, too, can keep watch.
Now, you wait until January sixth to take it all down and put it all away until next year.