Ornament Detox

December 22, 2023

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I had to take drastic measures to control the stress of Christmas, even if it meant giving up one of my favorite traditions — for this year only.  - this story can be found in Lagniappe News. 

I'm feeling out of sorts this Christmas season. It's not because I started December off with a violent bout of food poisoning, or my college team was scorched out of the playoff, or that my dog died, all within the same week, but I've got the "mully grubs" as my mother would say because for the first time ever, I've decided not to decorate a Christmas tree.

In no way do I mind watering the tree every day or the constant flutter of needles. I'm such an irritating optimist; I liked vacuuming them up, thinking about how they made the room smell fresh and piney – "fa-la-la – thank you, God, for Evergreens and Shark vacuum cleaners!"

When it came right down to the elf truth, I realized the tree didn't stress me out, but the 200 ornaments did. I'm a tad bit ornament-obsessed. I was tired of being overwhelmed and stressed at the happiest time of the year.

I don't subscribe to having a generic tree in my house that could belong to any old family. Each ornament on my tree tells a story. A baby's silver rattle, a trolley from San Francisco, Flags over the Twin Towers, The Holy Family from Naples, a pressed flower from a wedding, and a reindeer from grandmother. Each is a story. Each is treasured. Each is 10 minutes of unwrapping, climbing, wiring it to the branch, and then packing it all away again. 

The artificial tree in the foyer doesn't count. Instead of fresh spruce, it has the earthy scent of my attic. It's adorned with lights only. Warm white like heaven's stars, because seriously —  what variety of “wild” would I be with multi-colored lights? I said “no” to ornaments on the fake tree as well. I went cold turkey. This basic faux tree is for atmosphere only. 

By choice, the main niche in the living room for the live tree remains eerily vacant. The soulless spot scrapes my heart like a cheese grater every time I walk past.  

I'll admit to taking shortcuts on various aspects of entertaining, but for some reason, my ornaments are all-consuming and must be perfect. In addition to the ornaments, the tiny hidden vases with fresh roses tucked inside needed constant upkeep and if the tinsel billowed in the air flow, it had to be immediately adjusted. Sometimes, it's great pressure being me. 

No one is allowed to help me, because it's my reindeer game, and "helpers" do things like hang two same-colored polar bears together. The nerve! 

I released a Christmas book last year (not a shameless plug, just a fact, Jack), not realizing that the high time of marketing would fall at . . . Christmas. It's hard work, but Christmas book signings on Groundhog Day seemed a bit tardy. 

Knowing that Christmastime would be busy, I found myself dreading my most beloved task. "I just can't do it," I told my husband. "Then don't," he said. He may as well have cursed at me. I clutched my pearls and gasped. "Are you out of your mind? What will the children say?" He laughed and said, "They're boys; they won't care." The dagger of truth sliced straight through my elfin heart.

So, I decked the halls with other things like the ceramic Christmas tree Mrs. Cooper helped me make in the Church basement when I was in the 3rd grade. I hung the stockings, decked the mantle and front door, and was D-O-N-E. This is what the generation of women ahead of me must have felt like when they burned their brassieres—total freedom. Hear me roar. 

Then I spent $82.59 on fresh fir-scented candles. 

So far, the season has been mostly stress-free, and I've had time for book signings, caroling, and my annual Scorching of the Chex Mix. 

Yes, things have been more manageable this year without the self-induced stress of perfectionism, but I miss the stories. I miss the shimmering reminders of adventures, friends, celebrations, and family no longer with us. My Christmas trees are scrapbooks of holidays past and present. And thank goodness I raised them right because one of my sons was heartbroken, and the other seemed confused. I'll make it up to them next year. Rockefeller Center has nothing on a Southern woman with 15 boxes of family ornaments. Perhaps I'll lighten the load in 2024 by eliminating the traditional 300 hand-decorated cookies. Life is indeed a delicate balance. And the true joy of Christmas doesn't need 257 ornaments. 

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