I’m not a perfectionist by nature. Except for the last 31 days of the year, when I suddenly morph into one.
For the first 334 of them, I don’t mind so much if the day’s events and household chores don’t turn out the way I want them to. So why does Christmas have to be so picture perfect?
Why do I not care if my pots, pans, and Pyrex are stacked neatly in my cabinet next to the stove, but the ornaments hanging from the tree must do so in descending order?
Why do I put off hanging up my clothes until I can’t see the floor of my closet, but every stocking, ribbon, wreath, and holly branch must be hung carefully and with military precision?
Why do I rush, race, scour, and search with such intensity to find the ideal gift, the exact right size, the perfect scent, when the other 334 days I simply walk by something and say “this will do”?
I used to think my home around the holidays was supposed to be pretty, smell pretty, because Christmas doesn’t come ‘round but once a year. If it happened every single day, let’s face it, it would cease to be special.
So for one month a year, I try and make my surroundings look as lovely, as homey, as festive, and as warm as I possibly can.
But along the way, I have learned these things we prop, plump, and place on our mantles, doors, and trees are, in themselves, the very objects that make our lives special, not just for one month, but actually all 365 days of the year. It’s just, for one month at least, we get to dust them off, lug them from the basement, trim them on a tree, and display them in all of their glittery beauty and pine scented glory.
They represent the most basic values we need in life. The stockings we hang so meticulously remind us of Saint Nicholas and of charitable giving and compassion for those less fortunate. The lights we drape around our trees remind us of how Christ gave light to the world, and the nativity beautifully illustrates the story of his birth. The mistletoe signifies the healing power of love and the Yule log will never let us forget about the importance of hard work and the consequent celebration of it.
Most of us have traditions and symbols of our own that we display at Christmas. Mine is an orange. Yep, as in the fruit. It took me many, many, many years to figure out its significance in my life around this time of year, but I finally did it. Every single Christmas, up until her death eleven years ago, my Grandmother would give us an orange as a Christmas present. That would be it.
Now, she always threw some cash in with it, but she would place a shiny, plump orange in a white box with tissue paper inside it and wrap it in festive paper and top it with a bow. As a kid, I never thought much of it. I’d just push the orange to the side and tuck my twenty dollar bill in my pocket. And sometimes, if we were lucky, she would wrap one of those chocolate oranges, the ones you break open and peel the chocolate pieces off like wedges of fruit. I still crave those every Christmas, now that she’s gone.
One day, not long before she passed, I finally asked her what was up with all the oranges. So she told me her story; a story of growing up one of twelve children in rural Georgia during the Great Depression, in a time and space that, along with World War II, would fundamentally shape the rest of her life. She never could understand the plastic toys, the limited edition action figures, the $100 cashmere sweaters; things to be used or worn briefly, then tossed aside, forgotten and unimportant. Now, she knew we were kids and liked toys so she added some money into our orange box, but she never bought us such things. We would have to buy them ourselves.
See, for her and her family, there were no fancy presents or store bought decorations to hang on trees. It was simple. There wasn’t a choice really, but it still never occurred to them. Christmas was about being together. It was about decorating a small pine tree from the woods with pinecones and paper angels. It was about waking up on Christmas and finding an orange and a piece of chocolate under the tree, something rare and wonderful. It was about being together through the toughest of times and celebrating their good fortune to have each other.
It finally made sense to me; this giving of an orange. I remember my parents putting them in each other’s stockings. My Dad would receive them from his patients who could afford little else but wanted to say thank you at Christmas time. They were always around during my childhood holidays, much like a wreath, or poinsettias or an angel set atop a Christmas tree. To me, this piece of fruit symbolizes the sweetness of the little things, good health, resilience in hard times, and the permanence of family. It’s something I hope to pass along to other generations too, like my grandmother.
All year long, we walk right by all sorts of things that should hold a particular meaning to us without even a blink. We are busy after all. But on Christmas, we get to relish them, display them from the rooftops, and rejoice loudly around these tangible things that represent a greater purpose; a greater meaning.
It’s the time of the year when we celebrate together the birth of Jesus and of a voice that will forever speak and remind us of forgiveness, compassion, responsibility to humanity, faith, and love. In what sometimes can feel like an imperfect world that sounds pretty perfect to me.
Laura Packard recently moved to Beaufort from Saint Simons Island, GA where she still pens a humor column for Coastal Illustrated/Brunswick News. She has brought along her 2 daughters, 3 dogs, 4 cats and one husband. They sometimes let her write. You can learn more about Laura and her writing at www.lauraleighpackard.com. And don’t forget, if you can’t make fun of yourself, someone else will surely do it for you. For Laura, someone else is usually her kids… and her dog, Atlas who she swears is John Candy reincarnate, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.