Going all warm and fuzzy

I guess you could call it an end of innocence. After several years of living a icicle light and tinsel-free existence, I have been forced to succumb to that great plastic, blinking American birthright: holiday decorating. I use the term "decorating" loosely here, because we all know holiday d`E9cor usually amounts to no more than lighting up one's house like a seedy Las Vegas casino. The only difference is that the giant, waving cowboy is now replaced by a giant, blow-up Santa that towers over the neighborhood, scaring small children and creating an overall feeling of uneasiness.

Fortunately, for several years, I was able to escape such a display. Those were the years B.C. - before children. As a free-wheeling single, I was able to get away with a simple strand of lights on the cactus or a bowl of green and red M&Ms and call it good. There was a small, self-harvested tree one year, but as I recall it was decorated in beer cans. Not exactly Norman Rockwell material, but who had time for all that sentimental stuff when there were turns to be had?

Of course, this all changed with the addition of a small tot to the household. In fact, we knew our days were numbered last year, and relished what we knew would probably be our final tree-free holiday, savoring the hours of entertainment that could be had from an empty box and discarded wrapping paper.

I foolishly thought I could prolong this for another year. Earlier this fall, with Christmas already in full bloom in the stores, I would valiantly hustle the boy past the glittering displays, hoping he wouldn't notice the animated chorus of singing reindeer. When that wasn't enough, I would unabashedly shield his eyes when we happened past the "Rockin' Santa" aisle or take huge detours to avoid it altogether. But soon, even that didn't work, and I realized the siren call of retail America was stronger than the both of us. The definitive moment came in late October, when numerous evenings were spent paying homage to the neighbor's Halloween light display. My husband or I would stand conspicuously in their front yard while the tot did a strange jig at the altar of the pink and orange light god and the glowing pumpkin heads on sticks. Eventually, it would become too cold to stand there any longer, or we feared the neighbors were going to call the cops. We would scoop him up, kicking and screaming, with promises that the lights would still be there tomorrow. Of course, we breathed a huge, secret sigh of relief the day the lights disappeared. But the poor little tyke was left in a state of disarray, staring into the darkness, shaking his head and despondently muttering "all gong."

It was nothing short of pathetic. And rather than endure another month standing in the cold, ogling the neighbor's light display, I caved. After all, if you're going to ogle lights, they may as well be your own. Besides, as a kid, my old man did the same for me. Come that first week of December, those lights went out, hung from the fence in a perfectly spaced zig-zag pattern that only comes with years of lighting mastery. The tired, old light-up Frosty was brought out from hibernation, dusted off and precisely set on the snowbank right next to the flag pole. Predictable, yes. But highly anticipated nonetheless. In fact, a year without Frosty or the accompanying brightly colored bulbs was unthinkable.

So, it only seemed right that, after years watching someone else schlep up and down the step ladder, it was my turn. As a result, the better part of Saturday - a day historically reserved for skiing or some other form of fun - was spent picking out a tree and digging through the cellar in search of the scant few Christmas decorations we owned. Unfortunately, the stash was rather meager, and the one measly strand of lights we had, when finally untangled from its massive knot, had more than a few dead soldiers. Like it or not, we were going to have to pay a visit to the local plastics emporium in search of replacement bulbs. Of course, the clerk balked at our request, as if it we had just been stupid enough to order off the menu at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

"Why would we sell those when you can buy a whole new set for $1.97?" he chortled.

Under the mesmerizing glare of fluorescent lights, the logic made sense. And armed with three brand new sets of lights, we headed home to decorate our first, real, tied-to-the-roof-of-the-family-truckster Christmas tree. We also were to undergo our first lessons in "Electricity and Me: A Deadly Combo" and "Safe Handling of Tree Ornaments 101."

Fortunately, with the help of Elvis crooning "White Christmas" and some bottled holiday cheer, the decorations went up with neither bloodshed nor self-electrocution. As for the outside, the glowing orbs of orange, blue, green, red and white were hung from the porch with care, in a display that would do the old man proud.

And when everything was said and done, and the last shards of broken ornament vacuumed up, dare I say, I was touched with a bit of that warm, fuzzy holiday glow (either that or the "Christmas cheer" was taking effect ). Sure, the day's activities couldncompare to my younger, more selfish pursuits of skiing. But it could be said that I was now taking turns of a different sort. And as we stood back to ogle our very own holiday light display, I realized that Normal Rockwell may have been onto something.

- Missy Votel



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