The first Christmas after we bought our house, I was totally excited to get my first Christmas tree. Like many mid-20-somethings, I had lived in a state of transition for years – from dorm room to dorm room, apartment to apartment, I moved. I could only reasonably accumulate enough stuff to fit in a station wagon, and for better or worse, Christmas decorations were not part of that equation.
So two years ago, as my heat bill went up and my newlywed-ness toned down, I was longing for the scent of pine and the twinkle of lights in my new (to me) old house. However, my husband and the family members that live with us are all from Mexico. Traditional holiday activities for them center around las posadas, which involves neighbors traveling house to house, showing up at each others doorsteps for tamales, atole and fruit during the nine days leading up to Christmas. The idea springs from Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay some 2000 years ago, and perhaps stems from the same root as Christmas caroling.
In my house, we are always in some state of cross-cultural interaction, and despite my great interest and enjoyment in learning about and experiencing all Mexican culture has to offer, I knew I wanted the house decorated for Christmas the way I was accustomed to.
That first year, I did ninety percent of the decorating myself. I bought ornaments, lights and garlands, picked out the tree, brought it home in my handy Hyundai hatchback, got it out of the car with a little help and then proceeded to single-handedly turn my living room into my own makeship winter wonderland. I have to imagine now that everyone in the house was impressed. One day the room was just a white room with inherited purple carpet and old covered sofas and the next it was twinkly and pretty and smelled wonderful.
Last year it was more of a group effort. I took the initiative to pick out the tree, but once I got home and started getting out the decorations, everyone started to help. A few days later, to my chagrin, strings of colored lights, some of them flashing, were mishung around the front porch of my house. I am really a white-light, non-flashing kind of girl, but how could I protest the tacky lights when I had apparently converted someone to the joys of holiday decorating? Besides, in my neighborhood, there are far more colored flashing lights and lawn ornament Santas with reindeer than simple, elegant white lights.
A few days ago, my sister-in-law Alba, whose husband and adorable 18-month-old son also live with us, asked me how much a tree costs. I told her around $30 or $40 dollars. She looked at my funny and said she saw them advertised at Sears and Wal-mart for more than $100, and thought I had spent a lot of money the last two years. I laughed and explained that any of them being advertised in the Sunday paper for more than $100 are most certainly fake plastic trees, of which at this point in my life, I want nothing to do with (sorry Mom and Jill).
We got to talking about it and wondered how quickly the baby (who is at the height of grabbiness) might pull the whole thing down on himself. I admitted I didn’t have a lot of time this holiday season and would be gone for the 10 days leading up to Christmas, and by the end of the conversation I thought we had agreed to not get a tree this year.
Fast-forward to last night, when I arrived home from my brother’s wedding reception, finally at the end of the week and a half of crazy work, crazy family time and crazy baking. As soom as I stepped into the kitchen I smelled the tree. In the living room, someone had picked out a really nice tree, brought it home, put it up, lit and decorated it, all while I was gone at a wedding reception. Someone had put my favorite ornaments in special places and bought some really cute new stuff to decorate around the house.
I was shocked, but secretly pleased, and touched. I went to find Alba, who said she had talked to a woman that had a baby about Carlos’ age around Christmas last year and that after a few days of telling him no to touching the tree, he had left it alone. She then went on to say something about how they wanted to do this for me because Fermin is gone and its important to have family and enjoy the Navidad.
Carlos, meanwhile, was looking at me, pointing to the tree and making happy baby sounds. He walked up, snagged a globe ornament and ran away. We sighed and chased after him, and began his training, not only in looking but not touching, but also in the holiday spirit.