The Days Are Long but the Years Are Short.
A few weeks ago, I decorated our home for Christmas. When the children were younger, they would wake up on the day after Thanksgiving (always a Friday and a holiday) eager to start setting up the Christmas décor.
I know I was as excited as they were! Americans own the whole Christmas décor game, and I loved the enthusiasm and seriousness with which they approached their decorating.
On that first day, our approach was to divide and conquer. My husband would tackle the outside decorations with the same precision and flair he brings to most tasks. Yes, there were lighting diagrams that involved hundreds (thousands?) of tiny white lights. (I am a Christmas-light purist and will not even entertain the idea of colored lights.)
My first task would be the outdoor décor that did not involve lighting. This was usually fairly simple and allowed the two children to be hands-on.
Next, while our ‘lighting-guy’ labored on, we three walked our toes off carrying up totes from the basement to the living rooms. Then the room décor would commence. I would send them off carrying items to different places: the front room, the dining-room, the lounge, stairs, etc. Once the items were staged at each location, we set about putting it all in place.
This usually involved a lot of discussions and a fair amount of personal interpretation on each child’s behalf. In the background, Christmas carols would be playing, and there were frequent breaks for hot choc, coffee, and cookies.
At this stage, my son would have had enough of all the fussing and would head out to “help dad,” aka, tossing a football on the front lawn or, when older, attempting to lob a baseball over our road to his best buddy who lived directly opposite. My daughter stuck a little longer with the decorating; our goal was to have it all set up that day.
Why? Because the next day we always went to buy the fresh tree! Dressed warmly, the adults usually clutching hot coffees, we would trek up and down the rows of trees all set out at our local nursery, Joy’s Farm. Each tree would receive a full critique as we judged the circumference, height, branches’ springiness, strength of needles, and general ability to hold ornaments. Finally, we would all agree on one. He would be named—yes, all our trees are males, and all get names—and we would congratulate ourselves on a job well done. Then we stand around the fragrant firepit while two men tied the tree, now wrapped up in netting, to the top of our SUV.
In our first year, once home, we immediately set about decorating the tree. However, within a few days, we figured out the tree should be left to “settle” before decorating. The next year we knew to set up the tree in the living room and then use the rest of the day for baking Christmas cookies; my mum’s shortbread recipe cut into different shapes with different toppings.
The process of acquiring ornaments came to me in our first year, 1999. I had a good selection of decorations that I used to display on our artificial tree back in South Africa. However, it was a skinny tree compared to the fresh one we bought in the US.
That first December 1999, when the season was in full swing, we had only lived here for six weeks! To say it was all a blur is to put it mildly. Land on a new continent, know not a single soul, instantly produce a full Christmas celebration for two small children? Sure, why not!
With a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old eager for Christmas, I stumbled on Hallmark Stores when I found they sold Keepsake ornaments. Each one came with a card where you could put a name, year, and special memory. We went as a family, and each chose one ornament.
Faithfully, I noted the name and age of each of us. And a tradition was born!
From that year until the present, there is an ornament for each of us and a log of the year that ornament was chosen. There are four in our family, and we lived here for 21 years—a lot of ornaments. Naturally, I gathered up other ornaments over the years, but the chosen ornaments take pride of place.
In the years before they both graduated from college, we would decorate the tree together, each of us hanging their ornaments. The joy and laughter at all the different choices was priceless. They would look at ornaments chosen at ages 7, 9, or 13 and shake their heads. Why had they thought a John Deer tractor with a Christmas wreath on the front was a great idea? Occasionally they would refer to the log to settle arguments about how old they had been when that ornament was selected.
I have promised them that one day when they have families of their own, I will give each of them all the ornaments they have gathered over the years to start their own collection. Then I will laugh along with their children at some of the choices.
For the last two years, they have both had their own homes, and I decorate the tree myself. As I place each ornament, it brings back decades of happy memories. Each one reflects something about the chooser; the sport they played, hobbies, passions, and schools attended. Many were chosen while we were on our vacation travels overseas. Every single one makes me smile.
Being a mum of two young children, a foreigner in a foreign land, some days seemed endless. But now, when I look back, it seems like it passed in the blink of an eye.
Yes, the days are long, but the years are very short.
Merry Christmas, and happy holidays to all. May 2021 be kinder to all of us.
Take care; I’ll be back on January 8th!