Needles scratch fingertips as I place the ornaments at carefully chosen spots on the tree. In ornament hierarchy, my favorites will be located at the top, in the front, eye-level. The crystal Madonna and the glass angel glow rainbows from the multi-colored bulbs that are hot to the touch. Bits of sap cause silvery strands of tinsel to stick to my palms. The last bulb must reach down and into the wooden Nativity set, setting an orange glow upon the occupants. Decorating builds the anticipation for the moment when I’ll walk down the stairs to find shiny rectangles with curly bows, corners secured with piney-smelling scotch tape.
Christmas wasn’t a day; it was a season. In the weeks following gluttonous Thanksgiving, we dusted off the chilly boxes of decorations from the attic. I seized upon the random strand of glittery garland and extra string of colored lights to add a glow to the festive scene on my dresser, where villagers caroled, exchanged gifts, and played in the cotton ball snow.
In my room, an assembly line of construction paper, markers, and stickers was arranged. Sheets of red, green, and blue were folded neatly, with designs of presents, Christmas trees, wreaths and snowmen drawn on the front. I made a list of each aunt, uncle, and grandmother I’d visit on Christmas, and each would receive an imperfect but carefully tailored card.
Over the years, there’s such a level of expectation that builds. There’s pressure for perfection at every turn. Everything must be special. Decorations. Cards. Gifts. The season becomes wrapped up in an unattainable version of a Hallmark movie, where the entire town has the fuzzy, warm glow of a Thomas Kincaide painting come to life, with everyone wearing matching hats and scarves. Reality feels closer to George Bailey yelling about his daughter playing the piano, or Clark Griswold kicking a plastic santa and reindeer in the front yard.
But then it snows on Christmas Eve. I feel a lightness as the flakes begin to float through the air and a sparkly white blankets the ground. And as much as I identify with holiday imperfection, I must admit that I want the happy ending. I want George to discover that his life has deeper meaning. I want Clark’s lights to shine brightly for the entire suburb. And I definitely want Ebeneezer’s last-minute largesse to surprisingly bless those he has wronged. Because it’s all of the human expectations that weigh on us; it’s the Divine gift that brings us Light.