09 December 2011

I Need a Little Christmas

I've been feeling a little blue lately.

When I woke up this morning I was eager to decorate the Christmas tree, but feeling a bit down at the same time. I'm not sure what it is. I got dressed—and because I knew I'd be moving around a lot, despite the fact it was in the 30s out, I put on a t-shirt and shorts!—then I had breakfast, then got set up. I cleared off the coffee table, pushed it back against the couch, and put the two tray tables next to the table. Then I took all of the bags and boxes of ornaments out of the ornament box (which used to be the tree stand when we had a smaller tree) and laid them out on the coffee table, tray tables, and sofa. This lets me see all that I have, so I don't forget anything. Before I started, I remembered to go downstairs to get the ornaments we got at Bronner's, and there were two other ornaments on the secretary, Tintin and Snowy and the reindeer with the pull-cord (it moves his legs).

First I fluffed the tree, and, because it is pushed in a corner in the closet the rest of the year, this takes a while: the portion of the tree in the corner is always flat! Plus when James brings it upstairs at least a dozen lights get pulled off the branches, if not more, so I have to refit those.

Once that was over, it was time to start. I put on the two Benji and Waldo specials, Christmas Is and The City That Forgot About Christmas. These are from the 1970s, with limited animation, but I like the sentiment. Then I switched to black and white Lassie Christmas episodes, from the 1958 "Christmas Story" where Lassie is hit by a car to the 1963 "Lassie's Gift of Love," where Timmy and Lassie, unknowingly, meet Santa Claus (or, as he puts it, "one of his helpers"). I love these things—they make it all soft and warm and cozy. Home. Felt better immediately, even if my back was already aching.

James got home a bit early and made me a sandwich, as I had not eaten any lunch except for some grapes. I didn't want to eat too much, since it was almost dinner time. I finished watching "Lassie's Gift of Love" and then started on the tinsel. Someone asked me how I tinsel...well, it's a lot more difficult since I was a kid, let me tell you, not just because of my creaky knees, but because tinsel is cut so damn fine now. It used to be twice as wide, the same size as the old lead-foil tinsel they used to use until it was banned. The new tinsel is made of mylar, and cut very fine as it is, static electricity makes it cling to everything, including my clothes, the wall, the table next to the tree...toss in the fact that my hands are sweaty...gah.

But it's not a real Christmas tree without the tinsel. I have garlands on the smaller trees, bead garlands on the smallest ones, and I hate 'em. They never drape properly for me—as far as I'm concerned, garland is on the same ring of Hell that the Christmas lights are.

So, the tinsel. You take it out of the box and grab it around "the middle." Now this newfangled tinsel isn't even cut at either end; it's more like one big long piece with perforations. And you know, "perforations make the paper stronger." Not quite as bad with mylar, but you have to run your fingers through it like you run it through your hair to try to at least break part of them. Then you use thumb and forefinger to grab about five or six strands—no, I don't put it on one strand at a time as James jokes—to put them on the branch. I start at the back, at the bottom of the tree, working back and forth so that each set of strands drapes properly over the strands under it. You put a lot on the bottom branches so that it makes a "skirt" that drapes to the floor. When it's done it looks like there is ice spilling down the tree from top to toe.

The nice thing about the mylar icicles versus the lead-foil ones pre-1960s is the same thing that some people say they don't like about them: they move. You can't really have a modern-tinseled tree near an open window: any good breeze and they blow and tangle. However, we have a little clear plastic "scoop" diverter over the heat vent, so little hard airflow reaches the tree. Instead, little currents of air stir the tinsel minimally so it flutters in millimeters, and the tree looks like it's breathing.

I kept cleaning after myself with the vacuum cleaner throughout the process, so there were few fallen "needles" and tinsel remains that needed cleaning up when I was finished (a process interrupted by supper—yum, pizza!). Then comes the hard part. I can't decorate the back of the tree with it backed into the corner, so it's pulled out enough for me to get behind. But once it's done, it has to go into the corner—and I can't put my hand into the tree and push it back that way once it's fully decorated and tinseled. Previously James got down on the floor and pushed it inch by inch into the corner by the three feet at the bottom of the trunk, but I found last year I could do it myself: just lie on my tummy and push a bit at the time. Always scares me, but the tree is pretty stable.

And then the finishing touch: unwrapping and placing out, figure by figure, the manger scene, which was my parents and mine growing up. Some of these little plaster figurines go back to the 1950s—Mary has a scrawled "15" (as in cents) under her. A little older shepherd says "35." You used to get them from bins in Woolworths and Grants...a shepherd here, a new Virgin Mary there. The oldest figures are either some type of plaster or hollow rubber; all the camels and one sheep and one sheepdog are rubber, with old newspaper bits stuffed inside them to keep them upright. A couple of the final figures we bought (the camel driver, a new sheepdog, the goat) are plastic. We also have a figure of a man showing the Christ child eggs, and a man playing the pipes. Last year I got lucky and found another figure of a similar vintage to add to the scene, but that store has closed. :-( When I was a kid Mom would put down a foil "floor" for the set, but I just place them on the carpet (having ditched the tree skirt two years ago; I never really liked it, and I haven't found one I liked since). The stable building is lit with the type of light you use in a Christmas village building; much better than the gadget my mom used to light it: a single candle lamp with the top broken off!

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