What is it about these hackneyed gimcracks and over-bright gewgaws, this frippery and festoonery, that so brings me down? Is it the forced clutterization of a normally restrained and ordered décor? Is it the cheesy Christmas music that comes out of everything from the Ernest Saves Christmas wind-up snowglobe to smiling Frosty the Snowman's circularly perforated and speakered ass? Is it the introduction of angels and Saint Nick and Baby Jesus, et al, into the household of a man (me!) who considers even the most ambivalent Unitarian a foot-soldier of fascistic religiosity? Is it the sheer physical labor of hauling boxes, rearranging furniture, ladder climbing, garland stringing, tree erection, tinseling the untinseled, gingerbreading the ungingerbreaded, aerosol snowing the tinsel and gingerbread, riveting prosthetic antlers onto the dogs head, etc? Is it the knowledge that I'll be performing this excessive, annoying process precisely in reverse mere weeks from now? Is it The Partner's willingness to brandish in my direction a heartbreakingly tender expression of hope, expectancy and trust in order to gain my cooperation in this abhorrent operation? I don't know
The first and biggest job is stringing the outdoor lights. For this I'll need to use an extension ladder (which I bought a few years ago in the Do-It-Yourself Household Fatalities Department at Home Depot). As both an inept and a coward, I always put safety first when using a ladder, meaning I climb it in painfully slow, tremulous steps then flail at the work impotently with one hand while clinging desperately onto the gutter with the other. After two to three hours of this, I declare the job finished, then climb down and The Partner I decide against her proposed traditional edging of the windows and eaves in favor of a more conceptual, Jackson Pollack-esque "Action Lighting" approach.
"Let's put the dancing Santa on the coffee table," The Partner says. "That's a wonderful idea," I want to say, "you've found the perfect place for it." But of course, I can't say it. I'm not that good an actor and the blatant insincerity of my remark would trigger a long, silent winter of sexlessness or, worse, a long talky winter of couple's counseling. "OK," is the best response I can make and I make it. "Hmm, I don't know," she says seriously, as if the proper placement of this hip-twisting piece of bearded crap is what will land us a spread in next month's Architectural Digest. "Maybe it should go on the mantle." What, and give it an additional three feet in which to gain shattering speed and momentum in the event of an unfortunate topple? "That's a wonderful idea," I respond without a trace of thespianism, "you've found the perfect place for it."
Up goes the garland. Up go the stockings. Up goes the pine-scented plastic wreath. Up goes the sleigh-reindeer-USS Enterprise mobile. Up goes the ceramic créche with the three-legged camel and the pirate Weeble in the manger filling-in for the long-missing Christ child. Up comes my lunch.
Finally, it's tree-trimming time. As is tradition, we've bought the tree with the sharpest, driest needles on the lot so that, as I attach the light strands to the inner boughs, my arms get more heavily scored than a touching moment in a Spielberg film. Once I've finished with the lights, the ornaments can be hung. The unfortunate fact here is that while The Partner's ornament collection grows with every passing year, the size of our tree, for space reasons, has remained relatively constant. This means that by the time all her various bulbs, balls, bells, stars and figures are in place, the burdened limbs strain earthward rather than skyward, as if someone turned up the gravity in that corner of the living room. Still, we add tinsel. We don't stop draping until what's before us, in shape, glare and ostentation, looks like the nosecone of some rocket launched by the Gabor Sisters Space Program.
I sit, unmerry, amidst the mish-mosh. Amidst the schmaltz, the shmatte, the kitsch, the tchotchkes. And, as I do, I'm moved to wonder: Why are all the most appropriate words for Christmas decorations Yiddish? ©